a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Bad Behavior

So there's a movie out there, and the plot is this:

A young man, who regularly participates in a violent, boxing-like sport, starts seeing a girl.

They hit it off, and they start spending a lot of time together.

He's a bit obsessive about it: he doesn't have a job, and really just wants to spend all his time with her.

All his time. He even tells her this.

Eventually she calls it off, but he won't take no for an answer.

He goes to her house at night. He looks at her window.

And then he starts playing loud music -- their song -- so that she'll hear it.

The movie, of course, is Say Anything, and on a private board I lurk around, one of the posters there posted this:

"What's weird is the way stalkers are lionized in films. A teenage John Cusack holding the boom box over his head with his spindly little arms was apparently a romantic moment, but damn if that film, and Frankie and Johnny, and countless others depend on the idea that She Will Grow To Love You If You Simply Refuse To Take No For An Answer. Now I call Bullshit on that old yawner. I hope I never see that crap in a movie again".

Now, the knee-jerk reaction to this is to say he is wrong. That clearly John Cusack in Say Anything isn't really a stalker, because he has real feelings for Ione Skye, because we think they should be together, and because he would never do anything to hurt her. And because playing music outside her house is clearly a lot more innocuous than anything that Mark Wahlberg does to Reese Witherspoon and her family in Fear.

Still, the guy has a point -- it's a very, very, very fine line that movies like this tread.

The idea that because two people belong together, and so anything goes in making that happen, is okay (to a certain extent) if it is mutual -- in Say Anything, I think we are to believe that it isn't a case of her growing to love him -- she already loves him, and he just wants her to realize how important that is.

But clearly if you are obsessed enough, and you believe that you are destined to be with someone, this idea can also feed any amount of bad behavior.

I mean, ultimately it doesn't matter how nice a guy John Cusack's character in Say Anything is. It really depends on Ione Skye's character. Because we sense that, deep inside, she is receptive to his radio-raising attentions, they are romantic. If she was afraid of this guy who won't leave her alone, if she's calling the police because he's out there playing music late at night, he's a stalker.

Exact same behavior by him both times.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. The idea that John Cusack's character might be seen by anyone as a stalker frankly never occurred to me until now, and I think the movie finesses it well enough that, to most people, clearly what he is doing is romantic.

If anything it goes to the importance of writers bringing the right context to things. If we believe our hero's motivations are pure, there is a lot that he can get away with, that would be bad behavior by a lesser character.

When Dustin Hoffman is bursting into the church at the end of The Graduate, we're rooting for him, even though this is another rather stalker-ish moment.

It's just interesting to chew over.


At 11:42 AM, Anonymous Aaron said...

The French film, "He Loves Me... He Loves Me Not" with Audrey Tautou takes a unique approach to the romantic "stalker." The film follows Tautou as she falls in love with a married doctor and creates a very romantic story around it. Then the movie starts over, this time from the POV of the doctor, and now Tautou appears to be a stalker.

What is also interesting is that male characters are normally portrayed as romantic where the female characters in the same situations are portrayed as crazy. (there are exceptions, of course...)

At 12:10 PM, Anonymous Joe Valdez said...

While we're arraigning John Cusack on charges for Say Anything, why stop there?

What about Romeo's behavior under the Capulet balcony in Romeo and Juliet? I think some counseling could be useful here, at the very least, a public apology.

At 12:43 PM, Blogger Burbanked said...

I'm not sure the commenter has a point - because he/she is essentially equating Lloyd Dobler's behavior with that of stalkers purely based on his actions and not his overall character.

The fact is, Crowe pretty well sets up that Dobler's a lovable doofus - sweet and well-meaning and deep in the throes of relatable, puppy dog love. Sure, if you take the boombox-raising out of context it may look creepy - but that's what trailer mash-ups are for, right?

If the screenwriter does a good enough job at setting up the characters and their motivations, those characters should be able to do whatever they damn well please and we'll follow them right into the sunset.

At 1:10 PM, Blogger Bill Cunningham said...

This sounds like the perfect film for a "trailer reboot" like the online videos everyone raves about.

At 2:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some years ago there was a cheap comedy in an established franchise (It might have been Meatballs 4 or something) about a young guy who receives advice on life from the ghost of a flapper.

At the end of the movie, Our Hero asks out Cute Love Interest... and she turns him down. He mopes away, all dejected, until Ghost Flapper gives him his final lesson.

She tells him "When a woman says no, she means yes." I shit you not.

Our Hero then immediately goes to Cute Love Interest and kisses her. And she kisses him back as though that's what she's been waiting for all along.

It's an interesting scene to watch, because the performances were soooooo awkward. The actors looked as if they wanted to be anywhere but on that set, saying those lines.


At 2:42 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

There's another disturbing moment, in "Revenge of the Nerds", where Robert Carradine's character dons a Darth Vader mask, and then has sex with a cheerleader who thinks he is her jock boyfriend.

Afterwards, he pops off the mask, revealing himself. Surprise! But it's not rape -- because she liked it.


At 4:32 PM, Blogger deepstructure said...

wow, i also remember being creeped out by that scene. i was dating a girl who had been raped and was extra-sensitive to it's portrayal in movies. really creepy scene.

but i disagree with burbanked. the context of the film is the key, not the character. we know this is a comedy. that's why you get away with the behavior - why we accept it's characterization as cute, not terrorizing. even if ione sky's character was calling the police, if it's a comedy we're expected to understand it's not serious and even to buy that she actually really loves him.

i think bill was exactly right - we could completely change that perception with a trailer that resets the context.

At 11:11 PM, Blogger wcmartell said...

One man's ceiling...

I've got to see the Tautou movie - sounds interesting.

Long ago I used to work for Safeway Grocery with an ugly middle aged guy named Bob.

Bob was a nice guy, been divorced for a while, had kids that he had every weekend and was a great dad.

Bob attempted to flirt with all of the girls at work, and they were completely repulsed. This was before Sexual Harassment. Had it been after, Bob would have been fired. All of the girls hated him.

As an experiment, I decided to flirt with the girls using the exact same things Bob had said. And young (then) and witty me had all of the girls laughing and flirting back.

They loved me for saying the same words that made them hate Bob!

So, it's all in the delivery... and in who is doing the delivering.

- Bill (fat and old)

At 1:16 AM, Blogger Steve Peterson said...

Accusations of stalker get thrown around way too easily.

Even if Ione had called the police on him, he wouldn't be a stalker unless he had continued to persist.

And, given the sort of things they were saying, even calling the police would be going too far. There's no reason to think that a serious, "this isn't going to work and I need you to leave me alone" wouldn't have done just as well.

Nowadays, "stalker" is used far more often as a way to insult someone than in anything close to the legal sense.

At 6:40 AM, Blogger Thomas Crymes said...

Young Frankenstein tells us that as long as you have a huge unit, the woman will love it even if you are a hideous monster.

Talking about stalkers...

Cinema Paradiso has this guy who stands under a girls window for like 2 months straight.

Creepy. Romantic.

At 8:28 AM, Blogger Emily Blake said...

I don't think most actors could have pulled that off.

I mean look at Gross Pointe Blank. That's John Cusack brutally killing people with no remorse, but we love him so much he can get away with anything.

Come to think of it, his behavior in that movie is kind of stalkerlike too.

I'd let John Cusack stalk me.

At 8:54 AM, Blogger japhy99 said...

And how about that Police song, "I'll Be Watching You"?

At 9:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's all about tone.

At 10:43 AM, Blogger E.C. Henry said...

Great thought provoking post, Scott.

Haven't had the priveledge of seeing "Say Anything" yet (the video store in Bonney Lake, WA doesn't carry a copy of it), but the issue of showing persistance vs being a stalker is an interesting one.

Personally, I think we live in an overly sensitive society. Basically we have a tendancy to label people prematurely. Stalking implies malacious intent. Untill you have proff the (potential) purpetrator has intent on malace you don't have stalking.

Getting women to like you sometimes takes REPEATED EXPOSURE. Love grows. It's a persuit of happyness issue, baby.

The key to avoid being labeled a stalker is to SHOW RESPECT to the object of your affection. If he/she shows no interest or is angered at your overature, back off for a while, applogize, humanize yourself to that person.

I think people in our society are WAY TOO LIBERAL in LABELING others. You can deeply damage someone by labeling them a slut, liar, or stalker.

Getting to know people and being sensitive to others is the key to mislababeling and avoiding labels of dubious destinction.

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

At 12:56 PM, Anonymous Joshua James said...

Far worse was the message in PRETTY WOMAN, which was if you blow enough guys on street corners for money, eventually a really rich nice guy will save you.

At 1:00 PM, Blogger wcmartell said...

You mean that doesn't work?

I'm getting off the street and going back to work on my script.

- Bill

At 1:06 PM, Blogger wcmartell said...

On film it may be tone.

In real life I think it's entirely up to the other person if they are being stalked or romantically pursued.

If they like the person with the boom box, it's okay.

If they think the person with the boom box is creepy, it's stalking.

Cast John Cusack, a guy we like, it's true love.

Cast Steve Buscemi, a guy who is weird, and he's a freakin' lunatic who needs to be arrested.

- Bill

At 4:27 PM, Blogger IQCrash said...

I'm still holding out for John Cusack to make date rape socially acceptable.

At 6:07 AM, Blogger Chuck said...

Of course, even the stalkers are the heroes of their own stories, so they can't help but see themselves as the romantics...

At 9:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem with categorizing Lloyd's behavior at that point in the film as stalkerish is that it comes after Diane's father instigates their breakup. Diane is in love with Lloyd, she admits as much, and their relationship has become sexual. It's only her father's constant interference and insistence that Diane go off to England with "no attachments" that causes her to break up with Lloyd and make the ridiculous gesture of giving him the pen. Lloyd's behavior after that point is about getting her to grow up and stop letting her father control everything she does, persuading her to follow her own feelings for a change.

Dear god, if anyone is a stalker in SAY ANYTHING, it's Diane's father.

At 2:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

what interests me is that people see this film as a romantic comedy, so the lloyd dobler character can't possibly be a stalker. if anyone other than cusack were playing the lead, with all its darkness and emotional turmoil this film would be seen as a drama. at its lightest, it's a black comedy.

lloyd dobler has no ambition in life, no plans for himself and apparently, no self-esteem. he barely makes eye contact with people when he talks. when the diane court character gives him affection, he trembles uncontrollably. he talks very fast, sometimes babbling, in an apparent attempt to "snow" people into liking him. before he meets diane, he has a friend take a picture of him standing behind her.

when he holds up the radio blasting "their" song, dawn is barely breaking - it appears to be 4am. this is after he has left eight rambling, unanswered messages on her answering machine.

whether or not diane's character loves him - and it can be reasonably argued that she feels so much pressure from all sides, she isn't sure what she wants anymore - i think he's a stalker, or stalker-esque. here's why:

1. he cares more about his hurt feelings than about her - her family is falling apart, her father going to prison, and instead of giving her a break, he demonizes her. (the scene with him driving around town, alone, muttering into a tape recorder about what a liar she is, i find particularly chilling.)

2. he keeps her awake with loud music blaring below her window. when the military does this to prisoners, it's considered torture.

3. he never lets up, no matter how upset she becomes.

this character is a stalker because his behavior is relentless, uncaring, and unreasonable. he won't take no for an answer and he won't stop bothering her until she relents. of course, it's hollywood, so in the end, she does. but it's not romantic.

At 5:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's context. Audience perspective. Good writing. Call it what you want, but she knows she loves him (she only breaks up with him for her father's sake) and more importantly, WE know she loves him. And further, talk about context, he runs everything he does by his two female friends, just to make sure he's doing things at least semi-correctly.

I could take three scenes out of Saw, describe them out of context, and make it sound like freaking Love Story. Come on.


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