Sympathy is Crowe's great gift, but it's a kind of weakness as well. He has rightly been criticised for the lack of darkness in his films, and there's clearly no question of them holding up a mirror to all of life. Yet with Lloyd, at least, there's an element of mystery: we have no idea of his relationship with his (absent) parents; his aimlessness hints at trouble ahead. And there's something between confusion and anger that underlies his riffs in conversation, which Crowe and Cusack are wise enough to merely suggest—it's never discussed. It would also seem to undergird his awe of Diane, who is more at peace with herself. When the couple split Lloyd is all at sea, swinging between shattered grief and self-conscious poses of defiance. Whereas Diane, while miserable, still has her prospects and her father ... or so she thinks.This from my 2002 review of Say Anything ..., which I have rescued from its web oblivion and posted at Bruce's Reviews for the 19th anniversary of the film's release.
“He may be the least cynical director working in Hollywood today,” wrote A.O. Scott in his review of the 2000 film Almost Famous. “What other filmmaker is as devoted to the nuances of decency or as fascinated by the subtle and complicated ways people can be nice to one another?” In a brilliant piece of sympathetic criticism, he put his finger on the limitations of Almost Famous while at the same time being fully, gratefully alive to that film's wonderful strengths.
Scott's concerns were prescient, as Crowe seems to have badly lost his way as a director since then. In revisiting Say Anything ..., surely the best teen romance of its age, I'd like to express the hope that Crowe can find a new way forward.