A hero who reveals his vulnerability, yet retains his pride; the kind of man devoted enough to lift a jukebox above his head blaring Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” to woo the girl who dumped him, yet still grounded enough to enjoy relaxing with his friends; a boy with few prospects who is seeking a “dare-to-be-great” situation.
There’s a reason Say Anything (1989) and its hero, Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack), were nearly universally worshipped by every middle and high school girl I knew. Cusack quickly became the heartthrob of my generation, just as Cary Grant was to his. In Holiday, Grant played a role much like Cusack’s in Say Anything. That’s why if you’re a diehard lover of Lloyd Dobler, I think you should check out this 1938 film and see for yourself the many similarities:
Those accustomed to seeing Grant’s suave persona on display in clips and photos might not realize how fun it is to witness him being the opposite—silly, playful, with that same uneasily expressed, coltish confidence in himself that makes Lloyd Dobler so appealing. In Holiday, Johnny (Grant) likes to do flips to cheer himself out of tough times or worries, just as Lloyd chides his sister for not being able to pull out of hers.
Romancing the Daddy’s Girl—and Daddy Ain’t So Great
Both films feature heroines who are too close to fathers who don’t deserve such adulation. In Say Anything, Diane’s dad (John Mahoney) winds up being a crook; in Holiday, Julia’s (Henry Kolker) is so obsessed with money and status that he verges on caricature.
Johnny’s fiancée and her father
Much of Holiday focuses on Johnny’s discovery that Julia (Doris Nolan) is much closer to her father’s character than he realized, just as Say Anything shows Diane (Ione Skye) slowly recognizing that her father is not the moral center of her universe. Luckily, we have both of Julia’s siblings, Linda (Katharine Hepburn) and Ned (Lew Ayres), mocking their dad the whole time in Holiday, which is way funnier than the whole Diane-Dad snooze fest.
Both heroes have unpopular dreams. Lloyd’s is beautifully expressed when Diane’s dad opens the door and he tries to sell himself as a trustworthy date: “I’m an athlete, so I rarely drink. You heard of kickboxing, sport of the future?”*
Lloyd responds to a question about his career plans with “Spend as much time as possible with Diane before she leaves” and proceeds to give an amusing description of his hopes: “Considering what’s waiting out there for me, I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career….So what I’ve been doing lately is kickboxing….”
Grant’s plan, captured in the film’s title, is to take a vacation from employment. He’s worked since the age of ten, and isn’t sure what he’s doing it for: “I want to know how I stand, where I fit in the picture, what it’s all gonna mean to me. I can’t find that out sitting behind some desk in an office, so as soon as I get enough money together, I’m going to knock off for a while….I want to save part of my life for myself….You know, retire young, work old, come back and work when I know what I’m working for, does that make sense to you?”
Johnny, like Lloyd, makes fun of the idea of needing familial or professional connections: “When I find myself in a position like this, I ask myself what would General Motors do? And then I do the opposite.”
And like Lloyd, Johnny thinks his love should be enough for Julia’s father: After offering a character reference, he adds, “I’m quite decent and fairly civilized. I love your daughter very much, which isn’t a bit hard. She seems to like me a lot too. And uh, well, that’s about all that can be said for me, except that I think we have a grand chance of being awfully happy.”
A Marvelous Support Network
Both men are backed by funny friends who provide much of the comic relief of their films. Edward Everett Horton plays a professor and Jean Dixon his wife, Susan; they are friends of Johnny’s who gravitate toward Linda rather than Johnny’s fiancée. When they arrive at the fussy engagement party for the couple, Susan says, “Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve got a run in my stocking.” “Good heavens, we’re ruined,” answers her husband. “Not a word of this to a soul,” he warns the butler.
Among Lloyd’s many entertaining friends, Corey (Lili Taylor) is the obvious standout, with her 63 songs about her ex and classic line in response to Lloyd’s “…I’m a guy. I have pride”: “You’re not a guy…The world is full of guys. Be a man.”
In Johnny’s case, Julia proves to be remarkably dull, and soon is outshone by her supportive sister, Linda (Hepburn). Linda can be quite amusing, though at times she’s a bit melodramatic about the family woes.
In Say Anything, we’re stuck with Ione Skye as the romantic interest the whole film, with that terrible acting doing nothing for any of us. When Diane dumps Cusack, all the viewers may protest, but it was a relief not to hear Skye talk for a bit and listen to Lloyd’s friends instead.
Both Johnny and Lloyd display a remarkable level of emotional maturity—Lloyd, in his continued efforts to unite Diane and her father once they become estranged in spite of the latter’s hostility toward him.
And Johnny, in his attention to his fiancée’s needs and sensitivity to her family despite her father’s rudeness toward him.
After asking many not-so-subtle questions about Johnny’s connections, Julia’s father expresses zero interest in her suitor’s obvious resourcefulness, the loss of his mother, and his pride in who he is. Johnny freely discusses his background: his dad’s grocery ownership and debts, an alcoholic uncle, and his own work as a steel mill worker, garbage truck driver, and laundry worker while earning his degree at Harvard. While he isn’t exactly trying to provoke the father’s snobbery, he clearly is amused by it.
“Admirable,” the father says after hearing Johnny’s answers about his life, with no sincerity whatsoever.
“Anything else, sir?” Johnny finally asks.
“I beg your pardon?” the father replies.
“I should think you would,” snaps Linda.
Luckily, fun-loving Linda is the one Johnny will eventually be falling for. If my description doesn’t win you, hopefully this image of the former acrobat (Grant) in action will.
*When I mentioned this quote on kickboxing, my husband pointed out that Lloyd was one prescient guy given the success of UFC….