Overthinking John Cusack
February 14, 2020 10:50 AM   Subscribe

 
Watched 'Better Off Dead' last weekend. Such a shitty movie. I loved it.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 11:04 AM on February 14 [18 favorites]


If, like me, you thought the Holy Trinity was Better Off Dead, The Sure Thing and One Crazy Summer, the article actually posits that the Holy Trinity is Say Anything, Grosse Pointe Blank, and High Fidelity. Which makes sense why they think it a cautionary tale.
posted by Ashwagandha at 11:05 AM on February 14 [33 favorites]


This is Better Off Dead erasure and I will not stand for it.

But seriously, I loved and still love High Fidelity, but realizing that Rob is a indeed a fucking asshole was a mark of maturity. I'm excited about the Hulu series that comes out today though!
posted by Maaik at 11:09 AM on February 14 [16 favorites]


I agree that there's an obvious line from Say Anything... to High Fidelity (especially in these days of incels and the alt-right and algorithmic radicalization of disaffected young men). But wedging Grosse Pointe Blank into it doesn't work. Might as well be Con Air in there. Or, if you want to get more obscure, Pushing Tin or City Hall. He did a few different "disillusioned early-30s professional" movies.
posted by Etrigan at 11:15 AM on February 14 [8 favorites]


Cusack wanted to play Hunter Thompson in the worst way, and it almost happened, which is alluded to in Hot Tub Time Machine. And when this author didn’t mention it, I kinda sorta discounted everything else in the article. I mean, if we’re overthinking here.
posted by valkane at 11:34 AM on February 14 [8 favorites]


Back around the turn of the century, my ex was always saying Gen X should really be called the John Cusack generation because the movies he appeared in did tend to capture something of the aggressive passivity of so many people we knew. Shallow enthusiasm and cynicism in the service of self preservation in the face of mutual disengagement with the larger world while trying to find some small part of it to call one's own. I mean, the claim wasn't made in those exact words or anything, but that seemed to be the gist of it, and it kinda worked for me, at least within the scope of its white-boy-centric manner.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:34 AM on February 14 [31 favorites]


Man children, ad infinum
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 11:37 AM on February 14 [4 favorites]


there's an obvious line from Say Anything... to High Fidelity

definitely, and you can argue that line actually starts with The Sure Thing, and tracks a decline of hopeful romanticism. but leaving out The Sure Thing -- especially for the inclusion of GPB, which might as well be in another universe -- kills the piece pretty quickly for me.

Also: Recently saw both One Crazy Summer and Better Off Dead and both are terrible and glorious.
we used to do a John Cusack Film Fest at our house every summer and it was awesome and so I'll brook no arguments here.
posted by martin q blank at 11:38 AM on February 14 [6 favorites]


Better Off Dead (1985), One Crazy Summer (!,1986), The Grifters (1990), Pushing Tin (1999) , Identity (2003) and 2012 (2009) are my favorite John Cusack movies, alongside this trilogy. Considering how far he's come since Sixteen Candles to have a resume this long, I can't fault the quality of the films in which he's appeared.
posted by patrickburns at 11:42 AM on February 14 [2 favorites]


Cusack wanted to play Hunter Thompson in the worst way

In light of this recent thread, I think he could have done an amazing job as David Foster Wallace, but unfortunately due to age, that ship has now sailed.
posted by Atom Eyes at 11:45 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]


It's not a good movie by any metric but I have a soft spot for Drive Hard. At the time I kind of thought of it like a sequel to Grosse Pointe Blank.
posted by Ashwagandha at 11:46 AM on February 14


I love some parts of "Better Off Dead" so much ("A car is not a toy, Lane Meyer!"), even though I know that a lot of it is simply garbage (e.g., the animated hamburger musical number). And I love many more parts of "The Sure Thing," aside from the over-the-top objectification of that poor young woman (which I think is part of the message of the movie?).

In both cases, Cusack's delivery and the good dialogue need each other to get their full effect. Like, the "Driving with a load not properly tied down" suggestion to the state trooper who has pulled them over is funny, but Cusack's wide-eyed earnestness makes it wonnnnderful.

After I realized his Eternal Youth schtick wasn't actually a thing that worked (some time in my 20s), I had hopes that as I grew up his roles would, too. The release of "High Fidelity" was maybe the high point for that, but ever since.... :7( *sad shrug*
posted by wenestvedt at 11:56 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]


I also love Better Off Dead, and I’ve always been mystified that Cusack apparently hated it so much, but I just read on Twitter that the man himself says he doesn’t, actually, so hurray?
posted by rodlymight at 12:01 PM on February 14 [2 favorites]


After I realized his Eternal Youth schtick wasn't actually a thing that worked (some time in my 20s), I had hopes that as I grew up his roles would, too. The release of "High Fidelity" was maybe the high point for that, but ever since.... :7( *sad shrug*

That reminds me of one of the Letterboxd reviews someone posted for a recent Cusack movie, Cell:


"The zombies are incredibly convincing. You can see the defeated look in their eyes. The hollow, lifelessness steaming from their once vibrant, glowing faces. Even the hair looks to be falling from their heads....

...oh wait, that's just John Cusack."
posted by gusottertrout at 12:04 PM on February 14 [6 favorites]


even though I know that a lot of it is simply garbage (e.g., the animated hamburger musical number).

PISTOLS AT DAWN
posted by COBRA! at 12:13 PM on February 14 [18 favorites]


There's one part of High Fidelity that always bugged me: When Cusack is showing off his record collection, and his co-workers are asking him how it is organized, and he says "Autobiographical," and they are all blown away, like, whoa, what a complex organizational concept! But... isn't that just in the order you bought them? I mean, I guess it would still be tricky to remember where everything is, but it seems like the laziest way to (not) organize your albums. But maybe that's the point...?
posted by Saxon Kane at 12:19 PM on February 14 [1 favorite]


The best scenes in High Fidelity are all of the ones with Jack Black anyway. Most of the rest of the film is just kind of meh.
posted by Doleful Creature at 12:24 PM on February 14 [5 favorites]


Didn't ask for a dime! Two dollars.
posted by xedrik at 12:27 PM on February 14 [6 favorites]


Loved Better Off Dead. The rest, meh.

Funny how Serendipity is nowhere in this thread. But none of these others were any better.
posted by elizilla at 12:30 PM on February 14 [1 favorite]


The lack of love people show for Hot Tub Time Machine makes me sad.
posted by hanov3r at 12:33 PM on February 14 [9 favorites]


T A P E H E A D S

You cannot deny that waffles are in true fact just pancakes with little squares on 'em.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 12:36 PM on February 14 [22 favorites]


The John Cusack trilogy is surely Better Off Dead, One Crazy Summer, and the three minutes and change he shows up for in Roadside Prophets?
posted by lefty lucky cat at 12:42 PM on February 14 [2 favorites]


Ok some of you are just making up movie titles now
posted by Atom Eyes at 12:45 PM on February 14 [8 favorites]


FREE FOOD FOR THE POOR! *flees from thread*
posted by lefty lucky cat at 12:50 PM on February 14 [2 favorites]


So how many people here didn't woo a crush by offering them a mix tape? I mean, it kind of defined the time, right?
posted by bonehead at 12:51 PM on February 14 [11 favorites]


Ha! By coincidence, I rewatched both Grosse Pointe Blank and High Fidelity earlier this month. My main conclusion is that the real star of these movies is Joan Cusack.
posted by mbrubeck at 12:53 PM on February 14 [68 favorites]


I thought the trilogy was supposed to be Say Anything, Grosse Pointe Blank and War, Inc., though. And I watched War, Inc. once, and thought it was terrible.

High Fidelity is hard to watch, knowing that I went through my own period of being pretty terrible and cringing a lot. By god I want that record collection, though.

Grosse Pointe Blank was so perfect, though. As a movie and as a metaphor. "You can never go home again, Oatman. But I guess you can shop there."
posted by jzb at 1:05 PM on February 14 [6 favorites]


I prefer Craig Schwartz (Being John Malkovich) as the other end of Lloyd Dobbler's trajectory.
posted by ewok_academy at 1:14 PM on February 14 [6 favorites]


he says "Autobiographical," and they are all blown away, like, whoa, what a complex organizational concept! But... isn't that just in the order you bought them?

No no, because then it's further sorted by how meaningful a song/album/artist is to you in context, and somebody like Rob is gonna totally be re-listening to and re-evaluating his music collection.

So, like, maybe Rob discovered James Brown in late high school, so OK you'd think "JB's 20 Greatest Hits" would go in like 1985, but then it turns out that "Cold Sweat" was the song that was playing when he first danced with his sophomore-year college girlfriend, so now you file that album in like "March 1988", and Otis Redding's "Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay" goes right next to it because that was their "slow song" even though in March 1988 he also bought albums by The Skatalites and David Bowie and The Clash, but he just listened to those, they don't hold a deeper meaning except whoops that one English term paper was totally inspired by "Lost in the Supermarket" so I guess "London Calling" really goes in like "May 1989" . . . . . aaaaaand it's been a minute since I watched the movie, but wasn't there a scene where Rob addresses the camera basically doing just what I did, spewing this big complex explanation of All The Possible Ways To Organize Your Record Collection?
posted by soundguy99 at 1:17 PM on February 14 [14 favorites]


I really really want John Cusack to be in a good movie again someday, please

The Tribeca Film Festival showed Say Anything last year as a commemoration of its 30th anniversary, and I attended (ostensibly John was going to be in the live panel afterward with Ione Skye and Cameron Crowe, but he was stuck filming something in Chicago at the last minute and skyped in). Two audience reactions caught my attention: first, the first time when Lloyd Dobler appeared on screen, this little whispery murmur ran through the audience, as everyone remarked about omigod look it's baby John Cusack.

And then during the boom box scene, the first thing I noticed were people in the audience taking pictures of the screen with their camera phones. And just as I was shaking my head over how stupid that seemed...I heard someone in the audience quietly start singing along with "In Your Eyes." And then someone else further back joined in. And then someone else joined in to my right. And then someone else a few rows ahead. And then I did too, and gradually about 20 of us ended up quietly singing along with Peter Gabriel until the end of the scene.

During the panel they talked about how Crowe and Cusack really got into the idea of Lloyd being optimistic as a sort of intentional, revolutionary act. If you look at Lloyd's face during the boombox scene, it's not sad and hangdog and lovelorn - it's defiant and determined. Not "why did you leave me," more like "I'm not going to forget this happened, dammit." I think that's what has kept it from slipping all the way into "eesh, this is kinda stalkery" - there's a confidence and a positivity in Lloyd that he has chosen as a way to be. And that's....kinda neat.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:21 PM on February 14 [27 favorites]


I rewatched both Grosse Pointe Blank and High Fidelity earlier this month. My main conclusion is that the real star of these movies is Joan Cusack.

I'd say she's probably the real star of every movie she's been in. But Grosse Pointe Blank has always bugged me anyway.

A. it classifies as what I call a "cute hit man" movie, a genre I loathe because there is absolutely nothing cute or even likable about a hit man ... particularly if the movie's not an outright farce, actually wants to take itself at least somewhat seriously as Grosse Pointe Blank does. So yeah, in concept alone, Grosse Pointe failed me.

B. even if I didn't feel all that about it, the screenwriter in me still feels the movie has the wrong protagonist. It's way more interesting, funny and dramatic if the main concern is Dan Aykroyd's character The Grocer. He's just got way more going on. The older pro who watches his younger protege absolutely blow it in the name of (are you f***ing kidding?) love. (SPOILER ALERT) He could still suffer death by TV set.
posted by philip-random at 1:27 PM on February 14 [3 favorites]


I’m a few episodes in on the Hulu version of High Fidelity and so far I recommend it. This is the article that convinced me to give it a go.
posted by rewil at 1:30 PM on February 14 [1 favorite]


High Fidelity sort of frightens me. It is the movie that most obviously highlights how immature I was and how little I understood the world when I first watched it in high school. I didn't understand why him and Laura were fighting constantly, I understood why they got back together even less, and I couldn't figure out why he didn't just date that journalist at the end who liked Stereolab a lot. In other words, the point of the movie went so far over my head it might as well have been in orbit.

I haven't watched it since, so I've forgotten a lot of details. I especially forgot the bit where he DEMANDED LAURA GET AN ABORTION. But maybe even more damning is the part where he walks out on Sarah despite her clearly needing some kind of human attachment in her life, because I do remember watching that part, and I read it at the time as "oh wow he doesn't want to go down that path of basically talking about exes all the time and being in a holding pattern, that seems like a smart move." Remember that thing about the point being way over my head? Yeah.

I feel like if I watched the movie again, I would spot a whole bunch of things that would make my high-school self feel really stupid. But I'm maybe more afraid of the things I'd still miss because maybe you never leave behind your boneheaded, immature former selves completely, and what does that mean for you in the here and now?

When Cusack is showing off his record collection, and his co-workers are asking him how it is organized, and he says "Autobiographical," and they are all blown away, like, whoa, what a complex organizational concept! But... isn't that just in the order you bought them?

For me, it 100% is, but I am friggin' METICULOUS about it, to the point where I created a custom field in Discogs specifically to store the order in which I bought all my CDs and records (and a second field to store when I bought the album, to the highest specificity my memory and/or paper trail will allow). And if you know anything about Discogs, it's that it does NOT help you with this at all, which means I have to MANUALLY NUMBER each goddamned record in Discogs myself, and fix any errors I make myself.

But yeah, the joy is that I can then look at any given part of my record collection and go "oh yeah, that's the year I did X in university" or "yup, here are the three years I lived out of my parents' house," and know instantly what musical mood I was in at the time. It's not just something for lazy people, though it is definitely at least partially that. For me it has never occurred to me to organize my collection any other way.
posted by chrominance at 1:45 PM on February 14 [12 favorites]


actually wants to take itself at least somewhat seriously as Grosse Pointe Blank does.

It wants to what now?
posted by joannemerriam at 2:12 PM on February 14 [11 favorites]


because then it's further sorted by how meaningful a song/album/artist is to you in context
That's even more insufferable.
posted by Saxon Kane at 2:17 PM on February 14 [1 favorite]


So how many people here didn't woo a crush by offering them a mix tape? I mean, it kind of defined the time, right?

*Sigh*. It’s been thirty years and more since I have seen Cynthia, but any mention of a mix tape gives my heart a tiny irrational twinge.

Also, the second lead in High Fidelity opposite Cusack seems to largely have returned home to do Danish TV. I now slightly begrudge the time and effort I put in twenty years ago learning how to properly pronounce Iben Hjejle.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:19 PM on February 14 [2 favorites]


Better Off Dead, The Sure Thing and One Crazy Summer

One of those kids is not like the others. The Sure Thing was very sweet in a lot of ways, and although I haven't seen it since it came out, I think that it would still hold up if it's half as good as it is in my memory. The other two... well, it's Savage Steve Holland. The first one was fine, although pretty gimmicky in parts (the animated hamburger scene, for example) and ultimately was just yet another 80s comedy in which the guy pines for the blond/popular girl before realizing that he should be with the brunette. The other one is just kind of dumb.

As for the others: I liked Say Anything fine, although my favorite scene isn't a Cusack scene--it's when his girlfriend goes into the IRS office thinking that she can talk them into leaving her dad alone, and instead the agent talks her into taking a hard look at her dad's finances--not for more evidence for them, because they've got him dead to rights--and she does, and holy shit, he's guilty as hell. The other thing I really like about it is Lili Taylor, both in general and for the scene where she's singing all her songs about Joe, and then Joe walks in and, barely missing a beat, she launches into an anti-Joe song. I saw Grosse Pointe Blank, it was fine. I did not see High Fidelity, because I'd read the book, and while I mostly liked it--the scene that sticks out to me is the woman who's dumping her husband's record collection out of revenge (this or something similar, usually a classic car, is a popular urban legend), including a nigh-priceless collection of Beatles singles, and he just can't do it--that one guy, I'm pretty sure the character played by Jack Black in the movie, might have caused me to hurl the nearest handy objects through the movie screen, possibly including myself. I have to put up with people like that at comic book stores often enough.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:19 PM on February 14 [2 favorites]


That's even more insufferable.

Rob being insufferable is kinda the point of the movie . . .
posted by soundguy99 at 2:22 PM on February 14 [10 favorites]


Oh, and [ctrl-F tapeheads] I'm glad that no one is mentioning the worst movie of Cusack's career. It's my go-to example for a movie in which the leads are pretty obviously having too much fun of a time making it to actually make a good movie.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:29 PM on February 14 [2 favorites]


Better Off Dead always seem to be one of those movies that actually has quite a few good bits and is ever so close to being Good, but somehow misses that special something that would elevate it out of a B grade. (Still, always good to see DOS on celluloid).

My main conclusion is that the real star of these movies is Joan Cusack.

There's probably an alternative universe where John and Joan became the Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal of their generation (which probably would have given a different feel to, say, Donnie Darko or Secretary).
posted by gtrwolf at 2:32 PM on February 14 [2 favorites]


If you think of One Crazy Summer as a Bobcat Goldthwait movie, its brilliance is more apparent. Cusack was merely competent in it, and Holland wisely declined to work with him any further. But let's not pretend it's not a far superior film compared to the Sure Thing, Say Anything, or Grosse Pointe Blank. To even make the comparison is being grossly unfair to some well-meaning but amateur-level films. They are decent in their own minor ways, some genuinely great moments, but you only get a One Crazy Summer-caliber comedy every twenty years or so and unfortunately everything else in the 80s/90s exists in its shadow. Even Holland himself didn't manage to hit those heights again. Lightning in a bottle... Curtis Armstrong, Joel Murray, Tom Villard (RIP). These powerhouses sadly never got to appear together again either, their chemistry elevated them all. What could have been.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 2:33 PM on February 14 [3 favorites]


Also, both Class (am I the only one who kinda sorta likes said movie?) and Sixteen Candles show that it's likely he could have had a long(er) (if less lucrative) career as a character comedy actor if he had decided to go that way.
posted by gtrwolf at 2:33 PM on February 14


Oh, and [ctrl-F tapeheads]

it appears as T A P E H E A D S in order to accentuate the awesomenessocity of it.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 2:50 PM on February 14 [6 favorites]


No one's said Grifters yet? There was a disturbing movie.
posted by LizardBreath at 2:58 PM on February 14 [3 favorites]


Somebody upthread did mention it, but 1) it was disturbing mostly because of the source material (Jim Thompson's 1963 novel of the same name) and 2) while Cusack's "Everyman" persona added a bit of flavor to that film, it doesn't really fit in with the thesis of the article, which is pretty much that you can track, um, something about the white male GenX experience by considering how Cusack's white male "Everyman" character deteriorates over time across these three movies where he's kinda supposed to be the "romantic lead".
posted by soundguy99 at 3:18 PM on February 14


TAPEHEADS is UHF but everyone is an asshole.
posted by HeroZero at 4:08 PM on February 14 [5 favorites]


Are these movies so canonical that they merit this kind of think-piece? This whole article reads to me as commissioned stealth advertising to point everyone's attention to the new Hulu series, conveniently available today (the clincher even happens to link the reader over to a positive review).
posted by LooseFilter at 4:48 PM on February 14 [5 favorites]


When Cusack is showing off his record collection, and his co-workers are asking him how it is organized, and he says "Autobiographical," and they are all blown away, like, whoa, what a complex organizational concept! But... isn't that just in the order you bought them? I mean, I guess it would still be tricky to remember where everything is

It blew my mind, not at the complexity, but just having never thought of something like that before and imagining all my CDs (or all my books) in that order and my collection becoming a sort of memory palace I'd need to wander through to find something.

But I think soundguy99 is right that for Cusack's character, the memories come unbidden when he hears or thinks of the music. He doesn't wander through memories to find the music but thinks of the music and remembers a particular time where it belongs.
posted by straight at 4:49 PM on February 14 [2 favorites]


Better Off Dead always seem to be one of those movies that actually has quite a few good bits and is ever so close to being Good, but somehow misses that special something that would elevate it out of a B grade.

Being B grade is what I thought made it so awesome?

Better off dead doesn't just embrace the absurd. It courts it for many years. Marries it. Has many kid absurdities. And when it dies, it has an open casket funeral with Dali's mustache planted firmly on it.
posted by a non mouse, a cow herd at 4:53 PM on February 14 [7 favorites]


You cannot deny that waffles are in true fact just pancakes with little squares on 'em.

You can, unless you think that toast is just bread that's a different color.
posted by straight at 4:59 PM on February 14 [2 favorites]


Surely the fourth movie of the trilogy is the one where he adopts that kid who thinks he is an alien, no? (After Googling I learned that it is called Martian Child)

And while looking at his IMDb page, wow he has made a lot of movies.
posted by Literaryhero at 5:27 PM on February 14


GCU Sweet and Full of Grace intoned: T A P E H E A D S

I can only offer a link to the B.A.D.D. sobriety test, which I still try to perform from time to time.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:32 PM on February 14 [2 favorites]


I think Say Anything is a great movie, and In Your Eyes, a wonderful song, perfectly placed. Lloyd Dobler is pretty awesome.

Never cared much for GPB and HF

"Kickboxing? I see by your face no..."
posted by Windopaene at 7:23 PM on February 14 [2 favorites]


it appears as T A P E H E A D S in order to accentuate the awesomenessocity of it.

oh christ you weren't kidding

(the B.A.D.D. sobriety test linked above is literally the only joke in the movie worth repeating)
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:14 PM on February 14 [2 favorites]


Savage Steve also animated the Press Your Luck whammys and knowing that made me appreciate the hamburger scene even more.
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:36 PM on February 14 [1 favorite]


Grifters is probably the only good John Cusack movie. White hapless Gen X misfit who is probably a bit of a misogynist is frankly the least interesting possible subject matter for film.
posted by aspersioncast at 10:06 PM on February 14 [1 favorite]


As my interest has been piqued by the thread I started to think more about Cusack's movie history that goes beyond the few films mentioned in the article. (At least those I've seen, which is about half of his major roles.)

Beyond the movies discussed, Cusack was also in a number of films that dealt with more socio-political concerns, mostly left-leaning, Cradle Will Rock, Bob Roberts (both Tim Robbins films), Eight Men Out, Fat Man and Little Boy, and of course Con Air. True Colors, City Hall, and War Inc, where he again plays a hitman type something he did again in Numbers Station, were more Hollywoodized and much less interesting while Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Shadows and Fog, and Thin Red Line more open to varying interpretation and interest. Some others I haven't seen include Max which has him playing a Jewish art dealer who befriends Hitler in 1918, Grace is Gone which deals, indirectly, with the fallout from the Iraq war, and more recently in smaller roles he was in The Butler and Chi-Raq.

He made two movies with Billy Bob Thornton that tried to adultize his image a bit Pushing Tin and The Ice Harvest, something he found some popular success with in Bullets Over Broadway, Runaway Jury, and The Grifters, but didn't quite repeat. He tried romance in the moderately enjoyable Serendipity, America's Sweethearts, and Must Love Dogs, tried a couple westerns, The Jack Bull and Never Grow Old, contributed to two documentaries on Hunter S Thompson, a doc on economics, one on Joe Strummer, another on JD Salinger and Ken Burns Baseball.

Cusack played "Future" Brian Wilson, of The Beach Boys, in Love and Mercy, with Paul Dano playing "past" Wilson, he was in a few harder to classify movies like Being John Malkovich, Shanghai, Adult World, Maps to the Stars, and We Are Not Animals, but mostly has appeared in thrillers that lean towards horror in some cases like Identity, The Paperboy, 1408, Cell, The Raven (where he plays Edgar Allen Poe hunting a serial killer, which somehow didn't find much of an audience), sci-fi lite in others, like 2012, and Singularity and far too many more standard thrillers to go list, quite a few of which also have him as a dad whose child, usually a daughter, gets caught up in the villainy and he also had a number of cameo-esque roles mostly in films made by people he's worked with before like Roadside Prophets and Hellcab.

The common thread seems to be that Cusack is often cast as a man who is systemically ineffectual but understands or otherwise accepts this as his place and only tries to push back to the extent of solidifying his place in the world, even as he knows the world is corrupt. He rarely plays anyone with even a desire for power for his own sake, True Colors and City Hall being maybe the furthest along those lines. He plays a lot of drifters, grifters, and observers who get caught up in events just beyond their level and try to make it through without ever really overcoming their own limitations save for perhaps some additional appreciation of the world or their own failures at the end. This goes all the way back to Journey of Natty Gann and continues until he starts appearing more in thrillers.

His roles in thrillers though mirrors that of his reporters and drifters, but just ups the stakes. He's still usually some guy who is more or less complacent in his mid-level position, even as an occasional lawman or assassin, who is suddenly forced to confront pressures from above and/or below that challenge his complacency. In the lighter movies this often ends with a "win" by his place being reaffirmed as acceptable but without any significant change in overall status or future outlook, in the thrillers the win is managing to stay alive and maintain a clawhold to his place, but again with only the most marginal gains aside from that in terms of his status in life.

Cusack carries something of a sense of detachment around his characters. They tend towards looking at the world in terms of thinking about how they are supposed to feel rather than inhabiting a sense of passion and drive of their own. That's what makes them so well suited to their positions, they generally aren't rocking the boat and are ready to accept what comes, no matter how strange, as they hold no strong beliefs of their own save for getting by and some esoteric indulgences that they use as signals of self as different from the all others. His roles as hitmen and other "bad guys" emphasize this blandly implacable nature as well, just slightly swapping the starting perspective but with the same sense of individual passivity about larger affairs.

This, I think, points to both Cusack's limits as an actor, but also to his choices as one since these are roles he returns to so often that there seems to be some conceptual urge involved that does hint at a match for his more politically involved films where the character's place in the system is more central to the social commentary involved. I think it's too easy to condemn Cusack's roles for their character traits as those traits often seem to be a choice of comment in themselves, even if not a heroic one in the more traditional Hollywood sense.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:07 AM on February 15 [16 favorites]


I can't do much to follow that aside from say that I did see him in MAX and GRACE IS GONE, and consider them his two best works. Yes, even more so than SAY ANYTHING.

I think his choice in films has been.....independent, and gradually has become constrained. He has a very definite idea about the movies he WANTS to make, but it has gotten harder to make them since his taste tends to be a little offbeat and from a very left-wing perspective. He also likes being hands- on artistically and has definite ideas about the whole production. All those rom-comes in the 90s were contractual payoffs so he could do the weird shit he really wanted like BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, which it's said he kind of encouraged - he called his agent one day and asked to see "the weirdest, most unproduceable script you've got", they sent him that and after he read it he called them again in a fit of excitement and said "if this ever goes into production, get me in on it or I will fire you". His interest got some buzz on it and helped get it going.

The business side of Hollywood has gotten more corporate, so the weird shit he likes making isn't as easy to make and it's become a challenge. He's also not young and cute any more, and he's also doubled down on his political outspokenness so that may give studios pause. Also ...

Okay, I admit this is only a theory of mine, but the timing works. So - in 2007, he did GRACE IS GONE, a performance so good that the producer did a lot of press about saying he was going to push John for for a Best Actor nomination during Oscar Season. But that's also about the time things started to take a bit of a turn for him - the roles weren't quite as good any more.

....the producer for GRACE IS GONE was Harvey Weinstein, who we know pulled strings to blacklist actresses for not hooking up with him. I have a weird hunch that something like that happened - John witnessed Harvey do something at a party or heard about something - and instead of looking away like other actors did, he confronted Weinstein about it, and Weinstein pulled the blacklist strings.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:55 AM on February 15 [8 favorites]


White hapless Gen X misfit who is probably a bit of a misogynist is frankly the least interesting possible subject matter for film.

Nah, smug Boomer rebel who definitely is is.

In this regard, I think it's worth remembering the "Bitches, man" scene in Say Anything.
posted by praemunire at 2:20 AM on February 15 [2 favorites]


> ...a "cute hit man" movie, a genre I loathe because there is absolutely nothing cute or even likable about a hit man ... particularly if the movie's not an outright farce, actually wants to take itself at least somewhat seriously as Grosse Pointe Blank does. So yeah, in concept alone, Grosse Pointe failed me.

It's been a while since I've seen it, but I recall GPB being more of a deadpan comedy, deliberately shading towards dark comedy for exactly the reasons you give. At least, the laughs at the foibles of the hitmen seemed to be a deliberate tonal choice rather than clashing with the rest of the movie. It didn't exactly make them out to be nice or heroic guys. Feckless, at best.
posted by ardgedee at 6:09 AM on February 15 [6 favorites]


I always found Lloyd Dobler extremely creepy and entitled.

Better Off Dead is the good one.
posted by bile and syntax at 7:31 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]


At least, the laughs at the foibles of the hitmen seemed to be a deliberate tonal choice rather than clashing with the rest of the movie. It didn't exactly make them out to be nice or heroic guys. Feckless, at best.

"John Cusack saw the film as a metaphor for the Reagan/Bush years. "I grew up fascinated by people in the Reagan administration, their ethics, their mercenary values," he said in an interview. "People who plan wars and then go home to their wives and their kids ... How do they live? To me, Grosse Pointe Blank was a metaphor for the people in the Bush White House." Elsewhere, he described the movie as "a black comedy about the American Dream, that 'win at all costs' personality you see every day ... A tongue-in-cheek look at the American value system."" (imdb)
posted by valkane at 7:51 AM on February 15 [3 favorites]


>>Grifters is probably the only good John Cusack movie. White hapless Gen X misfit who is probably a bit of a misogynist is frankly the least interesting possible subject matter for film.

Please read the comment directly below yours. IMDB lists 87 credits as actor. John Cusack has done much more than play a particular degenerate type over and over. I had forgotten about Fat Man and Little Boy, Eight Men Out, and City Hall (as examples) until I did a quick scroll through the list there.

I haven't seen One Crazy Summer, don't want to re-watch Sixteen Candles or The Sure Thing for what I would think are obvious reasons. But, those were the movies of the era and I don't think it's a good idea to retroactively judge one's choices without realizing the zeitgeist at the time.

>>Nah, smug Boomer rebel who definitely is is.

In this regard, I think it's worth remembering the "Bitches, man" scene in Say Anything.


The way I read that scene, the person who actually said "Bitches, man" was a pre-pubescent and so written by Cameron Crowe as a laugh line. All the others who are being misogynistic are shot down by Cusack's character when he asks if they are so savvy on having a girl why they are sitting near a gas station drinking beer alone.

I would be very interested in how one could see the scene differently.
posted by a non mouse, a cow herd at 9:12 AM on February 15 [10 favorites]


thanks gusottertrout for your comprehension (a word I've never used in this context before, so double thanks).

And yes to Max! A movie I saw some time ago but it sticks with me. The notion that Hitler wasn't a crap artist at all, but an outsider type who, had his peculiarly mad genius been realized, would have gone on to have a strange and notable career worthy of the art history books. But he never got his chance to express himself via the world of galleries etc, so he took it to the next level.

Good movie.
posted by philip-random at 9:21 AM on February 15


"The way I read that scene, the person who actually said "Bitches, man" was a pre-pubescent and so written by Cameron Crowe as a laugh line. All the others who are being misogynistic are shot down by Cusack's character when he asks if they are so savvy on having a girl why they are sitting near a gas station drinking beer alone.

I would be very interested in how one could see the scene differently."

That was my exact point. Dobler isn't an incipient misogynist. Those boys are pathetic and while Dobler's a chill nonjudgmental guy, he clearly sees their loserdom.
posted by praemunire at 10:19 AM on February 15 [6 favorites]


A trilogy is not simply three movies you picked at random. #imjustsayingthere'sthebouy
posted by humboldt32 at 10:45 AM on February 15


That was my exact point. Dobler isn't an incipient misogynist. Those boys are pathetic and while Dobler's a chill nonjudgmental guy, he clearly sees their loserdom.

Sorry. I misread who that was directed at.
posted by a non mouse, a cow herd at 11:29 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]


RE: Abortion in High Fidelity, I don't interpret that as "badgered her into getting an abortion after finding out she was pregnant."

From a transcript:
And number three: The Pregnancy. I
didn't know she was pregnant. Of
course I didn't. She hadn't told
me because I had told her I was...
sort of... seeing somebody else.
We thought we were being very
grown-up, but we were being
preposterously naive, childish
even, to think that one of us could
fuck around and then own up to it
while we were living together.
So -- I didn't find out about it
'til way later. We were going
through a good period and I made a
crack about having kids and she
burst into tears. I made her tell
me what it was all about, and she
did. I felt guilty and so I got
angry. She told me that at the
time I didn't look like a very good
long-term bet. That it was a hard
decision and she didn't see any
point in consulting me about it...
When the whole sorry tale comes out
in a great big --
He's not an objective reporter but he doesn't change major factual elements, and he says here he didn't even know she was pregnant until afterwards. His sin here is using her abortion to act like the aggrieved party in an argument.
posted by RobotHero at 1:14 PM on February 15


My main conclusion is that the real star of these movies is Joan Cusack.

I'm not trying to derail here but if you didn't know that Joan Cusack has a storefront in Chicago, well, you do now.
posted by ensign_ricky at 2:12 PM on February 15 [15 favorites]


The way I read that scene, the person who actually said "Bitches, man" was a pre-pubescent and so written by Cameron Crowe as a laugh line. All the others who are being misogynistic are shot down by Cusack's character when he asks if they are so savvy on having a girl why they are sitting near a gas station drinking beer alone.

By choice, man!
posted by kirkaracha at 3:01 PM on February 15 [6 favorites]


I can say without hyperbole that Better Off Dead has the greatest entrance in the history of civilization.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:04 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


it classifies as what I call a "cute hit man" movie, a genre I loathe because there is absolutely nothing cute or even likable about a hit man

I like this genre, and one of my favorites is Coldblooded (1995), starring Jason Priestly as the cute hit man. Plus Robert Loggia, Peter Riegert, Kimberly Williams, Janeane Garofalo, and Michael J. Fox
posted by kirkaracha at 3:32 PM on February 15


team #swankymodes forever
posted by armacy at 8:06 PM on February 15 [4 favorites]


I came in here to see if anyone mentioned Joan Cusack and/or Better Off Dead.

You did not disappoint. I love you dorks.
posted by ead at 8:29 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


Even though Better Off Dead was shot in Utah, the iconic K-12 is often thought have been inspired by Squaw Valley’s KT-22.

Also the Camaro from the film has been found and restored
posted by interogative mood at 7:44 AM on February 16


Really? No love for Tapeheads? What about 1408? Come on, it's the best movie about tripping that wasn't actually about tripping. OK, my triumvirate of John Cusack:
Tapeheads
1408
Hot Tub Time Machine
still really great but fourth goes to High Fidelity.
posted by evilDoug at 7:55 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


Joan Cusack in In and Out and Broadcast News.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:35 AM on February 16 [2 favorites]


Sorry, armacy I somehow missed your reply.
posted by evilDoug at 9:00 AM on February 16


I'm not trying to derail here but if you didn't know that Joan Cusack has a storefront in Chicago, well, you do now.

Jeez, I've probably walked right past it. Seems more than a bit twee, but I'd still like to pop in while it still exists.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:42 AM on February 16


the person who actually said "Bitches, man" was a pre-pubescent and so written by Cameron Crowe as a laugh line

While also saying, "Everything you heard those dudes say was exactly as childish as this."
posted by straight at 9:39 PM on February 16 [2 favorites]


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