Let’s face it: every girl in the world has declared the amazing Lloyd Dobler of Say Anything to be her boyfriend at least once in her life. The dude is legendary. He is a non-conformist, planning never to work for The Man: he’ll never sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. He doesn’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, he doesn’t want to do that.
What he does want to do, of course, is kickbox, boombox, and generally appreciate the awesomeness of shy smart girls like Diane Court — appreciate them in ways that steam up the windows of their new cars. Lloyd Dobler, I would like to sign up for your newsletter — especially if you would hand deliver it while playing Peter Gabriel on a boombox outside my window. Please bring the trenchcoat, too.
Of course, due to the popularity of Lloyd Dobler and the fact that he and John Cusack are synonymous in the minds of many, he has wound up playing a million and one Dobleresque characters — the quirky, creative, impulsive romantics in movies like Serendipity and Must Love Dogs (though neither film is admittedly any good) are clearly cut from the Dobler cloth. Occasionally, though, this works very, very well. He is completely perfect for the character of Rob Gordon in High Fidelity, a dude who spends time putting his records in “autobiographical order,” perfecting the art of mix-tape making, and creating lists of his top fives. (Sound like anyone you know?) Any dude who will put Stevie’s “I Believe (When I Fall in Love with You It Will Be Forever)” on a mix tape can commandeer my stereo any time, if you know what I mean, and I think that you do.
The quirky creative type works for him in Being John Malkovich, as well — here he plays the unkempt puppeteer Craig Schwartz. Also, here he earns his “Kaufman Cred,” which enables discerning viewers like you and I to take him seriously despite flicks like Must Love Dogs or America’s Sweethearts (which, just, ugh). I think there should be a rule that anyone who makes too many of those unappealing romantic comedies (completely different from appealing romantic comedies for a variety of reasons) should be legally required to balance them with a few mind-bending, poetically surreal, postmodern fantasies. Anyway, he’s decidedly less hot in this film, but awesome just the same.
I must, of course, mention his portrayal of Lane Meyer in Better Off Dead. The film, made in 1985, is four years older than Say Anything, and Cusack wasn’t quite the heartthrob commodity he would be later. While Lane, like Craig above, isn’t exactly someone you’d want to date (unless you like the idea of your boyfriend wallpapering his bedroom with millions of photos of you, in which case, fine), but he is a badass in many ways. Yes, that’s right, a badass. He may look like an awkward nerd to the naked eye, but witness: he’s a dedicated drag racer; he skis down dangerous mountains on only one ski; and he brazenly inserts his Q-Tips into any orifice he pleases, regardless of the warnings on the box.
See? He even has them in the ear canal! THE EAR CANAL, I TELL YOU. Badass!
Another Cusackian badass is the fantastic Martin Q. Blank, successful hitman and sensitive romantic. He’s still in love with his high-school girlfriend (the equally badass Debi Newberry (played by Minnie Driver), who spins punk and new wave at the local radio station) and is undergoing some sort of existential crisis and transformation. He spends the film (Grosse Pointe Blank) making frantic, anxious phone calls to his reluctant therapist and murdering people. It’s generally excellent.
Is there a little bit of the Dobleresque in Martin Q. Blank? Probably so. The soupçon of Dobler in all of Cusack’s best characters (even characters that pre-date Dobler!) leads me to conclude, albeit without too much analytical thought, that there must be something of the Dobleresque in Cusack himself. Or whatever. I mean, I will choose to believe that, anyway.
Who wouldn’t want to believe that there can be Doblers in real life? It’s like the human will to believe in a god even without any evidence that such an entity exists. We all want to believe in a Dobler, even though experience points to the conclusion that the world is instead peopled mainly by asshats, chowderheads, jerkburgers, and douchebags. Somewhere out there lurks a Dobler, biding his time, perfecting his mix tape, maybe stocking up on C batteries for his awesome boombox. Any day now, Dobler. Any day.