Sunday, September 27, 2009

Being John Cusack

Watching Say Anything the other night, I was reminded how much I like John Cusack. Never a method actor, or a big personality, he always seemed just a cut above average, not too smart, not too handsome, skinny, but funny and cool, maybe a bit nerdy but with some charm – a nice guy; me and my friends wanted to be him because we weren't actually that far away from being him (NB: he's my exact height). He gave us hope. His weren't the unobtainable looks of Tom Cruise or Robert Redford, the personality of Jack Nicholson or the method and madness of Robert De Niro. Cusack was just a normal guy – but with an edge. And he was always into cool music. And when he scores with a beautiful woman it's partly down to his charm but mainly due to luck and good timing – like it was with most of us.

He was a few years older, but it felt like we watched him grow up with us. His first role in the otherwise dreadful Class (1983) has him flick a cigarette around into his mouth when a school teacher approaches; when she leaves he flicks it back out again. It's the only scene I remember in the film. He was supporting cast in a few films – including Brat Pack classic Sixteen Candles (1984) and Stand By Me (1986) – before finding his stride with The Sure Thing (1985), Better off Dead (1985), Tapeheads (1988) and Say Anything (1989). The following year, with The Grifters (1990), he grew up.

But if I could take any two Cusack films to a desert island, it would be two which hark back to his nerdy high school days: Grosse Point Blank (1997) and High Fidelity (2000). Both films could be unofficial parallel universe sequels to Say Anything: one of its themes is what Cusack's character is going to do with his life post-high school. Well, he could quite easily ended up the list-obsessed record store manager in High Fidelity (in Say Anything he never takes off his The Clash T-shirt). Or, his other option, with his father in the army and wanting his son to follow, he could have joined up then gone freelance as professional killer (Grosse Point Blank). And the music's good in both of them too.

He's appeared in a few blockbusters (Con Air, Pushing Tin), a few by great directors (Allen (twice, though that doesn't mean much nowadays; look at Scarlett Johansson), Malick, Eastwood), horror films (1408) and dreadful films (America's Sweethearts) but I must admit I haven't seen him in much since Being John Malkovich (still the loser trying to get lucky with a beautiful woman) and High Fidelity. That's almost a decade ago. Maybe I've grown up too. Or just waiting for him to do another high school movie.

His best films feel like family affairs – both sister Joan and close friend Jeremy Piven (no, I have no idea who he is either) have acted in ten films alongside him; another more famous friend, Tim Robbins, has been in six with him. In his best films it's like he's given free reign – to have the music he likes on the soundtrack (he was music supervisor on High Fidelity and performed on Tapeheads), and wear what he wants, act with who he wants. His best films feel like home movies.

1 comment :

bobbyonion said...

Agree with your two picks. Piven has gone on to great acclaim in the TV show Entourage. Nope, not seen it either.