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What I Did For Lloyd

(By Gemma Lamana Wills -- Fox Broadcasting Co.)

"Jake Ryan is dessert, and Lloyd Dobler is like the vegetables you need," says Sasha Johnson, 29, a Washington TV producer. "Lloyd Dobler ruined men forever. I can't take total credit for this, an ex-boyfriend said this to me once. He contended that Lloyd Dobler's boombox moment became the pinnacle of romance -- the standard that no man could ever meet no matter how hard he tried. I've always loved Lloyd Dobler and have grown to appreciate him more as the years have gone on . . . the guy in high school that no woman wanted but ultimately now the kind of man we want to marry.

"He had that right mix of self-assuredness, sensitivity and geekiness. He was willing to make an insanely bold gesture to get the woman of his dreams back -- something every woman wishes could happen to her."

Shawna Shepherd, 28, an associate TV producer, agrees. "I am always on the hunt for the Lloyd Dobler type. Unfortunately the ones I've dated so far pale in comparison to the Hollywood character," she says. "Sure they were quirky, and the mix tapes award-winning -- I still listen to them -- but a shower and a treat to dinner every now and then would have been nice, too. And let's face it, if a guy stood outside with a boombox playing music outside my window, I'd be unimpressed and slightly freaked out."

Carrie Foster, 30, a Washington publicist, says, "Every time women hear 'In Your Eyes' by Peter Gabriel, there's a small part of us that swoons for the cynical, sensitive letter-writing nice guy. Diane Court got lucky -- her character was wretchedly annoying."

Chuck Klosterman, a complicatedly dorky New York rock critic who has ascended to omniscient pop-culture sageness (more powerful in his observations than even the combined forces of all those loudmouths on nostalgic VH1 shows), makes quick work of Lloyd Dobler in the very first pages of his 2003 book "Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs":

"Fake love is a very powerful thing," Klosterman observes. "I once loved a girl who almost loved me, but not as much as she loved John Cusack. . . . It appears that countless women born between the years of 1965 and 1978 are in love with John Cusack. . . . But here's what none of these upwardly mobile women seem to realize: They don't love John Cusack. They love Lloyd Dobler. When they see Mr. Cusack, they are still seeing the optimistic, charmingly loquacious teenager he played in 'Say Anything.' . . .

"I miss that girl. I wish I was Lloyd Dobler. I don't want anybody to step on a piece of broken glass. I want fake love. But that's all I want, and that's why I can't have it."

* * *

Lloyd is cynical and yet open; he is morose and yet curiously happy -- he believes.

Director/writer Crowe wanted a kid who was thoroughly "Reagan era": lover of good college-radio bands (Fishbone, the Replacements), unpretentious, and upbeat in the face of fashionable Cold War pessimism and ennui. Lloyd is happy, except when Lloyd is in a phone booth, soaking from the rain, when Diane has dumped him. Lloyd sits at Diane's family dinner table and explains his career goals, or lack thereof:

"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." ("The quintessential underachiever bylaws," Carrie Foster says. "Or a press secretary in the making! His overwhelmingly dreamy romantic gestures are probably due to his complete lack of professional ambition. He would hate Washington, but would make a great writer for City Paper.")

Crowe has said -- in the godlike voice-overs a viewer can get from patiently sitting through the commentary mode on the "special edition" DVD of "Say Anything" -- that his idea for Lloyd Dobler revolved around the idea of "optimism as a revolutionary act." Crowe remembers a real-life Los Angeles neighbor of his who kept knocking on his door, interrupting his screenwriting to upbeatly describe his take on the world, or his latest kickboxing match. Crowe eventually wove that person into Lloyd Dobler.

Cusack, who turns 40 in June, was only 22 when he played the part (and, arguably, played it over and over -- the sensitive, mix-tape-making, imperfectly perfect boyfriend). He didn't want to do it, in that way 22-year-old actors are terrified of doing more high school roles. More terrifyingly, in Hollywood trivia myths, it has been said that Kirk Cameron, the teen idol star of TV's "Growing Pains," was up for the part. Crowe had to beg Cusack, who agreed only if he could fuse his own sensibility onto Lloyd. Unlike celebrities who are embarrassed or dismissive of their early work, Cusack is apparently almost always gracious when reporters who are writing about his latest movie ask about Lloyd. And they always ask.

For Lloyd lives -- largely in our minds, but that's not such a bad place to be.

Sasha Johnson thinks she has found an actual one, a guy she's been seeing for a year now. It's not like there was a broken-glass-in-the-7-Eleven-parking-lot moment she can base her hunches on, but it's a lot of things -- small kindnesses, a self-assuredness, a patience. Yes, he could be a Lloyd.

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© 2006 The Washington Post Company