John Cusack is one of my favourite movie stars, and he turned 40 on 28 June. OK, so’s he’s not quite A-list, and I don’t think he’s ever got a big payday role ($ 10 million or more). But he’s an amazing presence in the psyche of Generation X. His roles have mirrored our lives and our own development. You can see his bio and entire 51 credit filmography at his IMDB page (that include 5 unreleased movies that he’s working on or in post production now).
Cusack has been a steadfast presence in movies that my generation has used to define itself. He’s probably the defining Generation X actor, and his onscreen development, with passages from teen angst into young adulthood and now looming middle age have just slightly pre-empted our own journeys, and even been somewhat prophetic, or at least echoed our fears and desires.
Think about it. John Cusack has a defining film, or two, for every era of our lives:

  • High school: In 1984, he appeared in “Sixteen Candles.” But it was his star turn in “Better Off Dead” – “I want my two dollars!” – that made Cusack a hero in high school.
  • Early, post-high school adulthood: “Say Anything.” That’s the movie where he stood outside his girlfriend’s house, boombox over his head, playing Peter Gabriel in some kind of postmodern serenade.
  • Just turned 30, trying to figure out whether I want to be a kid all my life: “High Fidelity,” where he played the record store owner wrestling with issues of fidelity (“A comedy about fear of commitment, hating your job, falling in love and other pop favorites”). This movie rivals Clerks as one of the defining movies abour Gen X McJob fears. And then there is “Grosse Pointe Blank” (which he produced and wrote) where he played the hitman coming home for his high school reunion – trying to figure out if he’s become the kind of adult he wanted to be. And even when he had a “real job”, he reflected the complete intertwining of work and personal life and how to keep a balance in “Pushing Tin“.
  • He was also the lead in “Being John Malkovich“, the disturbing look at identity and being who we are – a very real concern of Gen X in their 30s. “Identity” pushed that theme to a psychotic limit.
  • He has also helped us come to grips with the question of love – can we truly find our soul mate in a global world gone mad (“Serendipity“), or after divorce when the pressure from family and friends becomes unbearable (“Must Love Dogs“).
  • He showed up the vagaries of our obsession with fame and celebrities (Gen X has no heroes, it only has celebrities), in “America’s Sweethearts“.
  • He even gave us a view on corporate scandals and legal coverups in “Runaway Jury“, just as earlier he had foreseen the great American political scandals in “True Colors“.
  • He’s even done a Woody Allen movie, “Bullets Over Broadway“.

Is there any other actor of this generation who has been part of so many iconic moments, and who’s face lives in your memory in so many different ways? Whoever chooses his roles for him should get a lifetime achievement award!!
And now he is 40. He’s probably going to slip into the “dad” roles soon. But I am sure they won’t be the kind that Steve Martin has been doing since “Father of the Bride” and “Cheaper by the Dozen”. Gen X’s view of fatherhood is somewhat different to those sickly sweet comedies. I look forward to prescient John helping me prepare to be a father of teenagers 🙂
Gen Xers will track their own progress as they watch John Cusack continue to grow on screen. Happy 40th, John.

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