Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) is an engagingly aimless high school graduate who likes junk food and kickboxing. Courageously, he sets his heart on Diane Court (Ione Skye), the most beautiful and brilliant girl in school, described as a brain “trapped inside the body of a game show hostess.” Lloyd has no conventional “smooth” talk but his free-association “say anything” style, good humor, and obvious genuineness make her laugh. She agrees to let him take her to a graduation party, and they have a good time together.
Diane and her father James (John Mahoney) are very close and he assures her that they can always “say anything” to each other. When Diane wins a prestigious fellowship to study in England, he tells her that it is everything they have ever worked for. One problem is Diane’s fear of flying. The other problem is her growing attachment to Lloyd.
Though she tries not to become too involved, Diane becomes closer to Lloyd. Her father feels that she is drifting away from him. Diane and Lloyd make love — a gentle, intimate experience, and she immediately tells her father about it. Finally, John forces Diane to choose, and she chooses her father over Lloyd. She tells Lloyd she just wants to be friends.
But her father’s love, which has always bordered on the obsessive, has also developed into the criminal. His nursing home is investigated for tax fraud. John has been taking money from the residents to spend on Diane. Diane is shattered. She returns to Lloyd for support. She cannot bring herself to visit her father in jail, so she sends Lloyd to see him with a letter. In an exceptionally sweet final scene, Lloyd and a terrified Diane are on the plane to England.
In this movie, the guy who appears to be aimless and incapable of achieving anything turns out to have a stronger moral code than John and to be more in control of his life than Diane. Diane may have an outstanding record, but she has missed out on making friends. Lloyd has excellent relationships with his sister and her son and with a number of friends. He is the one reliable enough to be the “keymaster” to make sure that no one leaves the party too drunk to drive. When he wavers about taking a stand with Diane, his friend reminds him not to be “a guy,” but to be “a man.” He is even willing to mediate the relationship between Diane and her father.
Lloyd waits for his future to come to him. As he says, “I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.” But he knows that he wants to be with Diane, and he is willing to do whatever it takes to make that possible. Lloyd is ready to make his own choices and make his own mistakes. Diane, by contrast, has always had all her choices made for her.
The strength of Lloyd’s relationship with Diane is also contrasted with the disastrous teenage relationships of his friends, especially Cory’s broken heart over Joe. In a memorable scene, Lloyd’s buddies offer him (terrible) advice on how to treat women, and he responds, “I got a question. If you guys know so much about women, how come you’re here at like the Gas ‘n’ Sip on a Saturday night completely alone drinking beers with no women anywhere?” “Conscious choice, man” is their funny but unconvincing reply.
Diane’s father, desperate for her to succeed, is too overprotective and too involved with her. He has made her dependent. She is only able to flourish in Lloyd’s company. She appreciates Lloyd’s thoughtfulness in guiding her around some broken glass and his willingness to help her become more independent by teaching her to drive. Yet, she is still not ready to be on her own. She needs Lloyd to deliver her message to her father, and to comfort her as the plane takes off for England.
Parents should know that this movie includes brief strong language. Diane and Lloyd make love in the back of a car, an overwhelming and intimate experience for both of them. She goes home afterward and tells her father about it, pleased that she can “say anything” to him. There is liberal drinking at high-school party with a couple of students actively drunk. Lloyd is responsible for making sure everyone gets home safely. Families who see this movie should talk about why a girl as successful and ambitious as Diane would like Lloyd. If all James does is try to do what is best for his daughter, how does this go wrong? Lloyd has a lot of friends — what makes him so likeable? What will happen to Lloyd and Diane? Why do you think so?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy seeing Ione Skye (the daughter of 1960s pop star Donovan) in another story about a young man who flounders through his attraction to her, The Rachel Papers (deservedly rated R), based on the novel by Martin Amis. Cusack stars in The Sure Thing and The Journey of Natty Gan, and provides the voice of Dimitri in Anastasia. Mahoney appears on television’s “Frazier” and in the romantic Moonstruck.