MOVIE REVIEW : Lovelorn ‘Angus’ Tackles Heavy-Hearted School Days
“Angus” takes us right smack back into the hell that was high school for all of us who didn’t fit in for one reason or another. It’s a journey made many times over in the movies, but this film, although uneven, has an uncommon honesty and a beguiling young actor, Charlie Talbert, in the title role. Angus describes himself accurately as “a fat guy who’s good at science"--and therefore, the guy least likely to make an impression on the prettiest, most popular girl in school (Ariana Richards).
Since this is a movie, after all, and ostensibly a comedy as well, we suspect Angus is going to get his chance. Yet its makers don’t dodge the reality that no matter how much resilience hefty kids can develop, it doesn’t mean they’re really going to go off into the sunset with a boyfriend or girlfriend of spectacular good looks.
Although an asset on the football team, Angus is subjected to constant ridicule and has but one friend, the slight but enthusiastic Troy (Chris Owen), whose ears stick beyond what is considered socially acceptable at their small-town Midwestern school. It would seem that Angus and Troy have hunkered down pretty well, having taught themselves to roll--sometimes literally--with the punches. But then Angus is the victim of a prank, which finds him elected king of the freshman prom. Encouraged by his tart grandfather (George C. Scott), Angus gradually realizes that there might be some kind of inner victory for him if he dares to attend. What’s more, Richards’ lovely Melissa has been chosen queen of the prom.
Jill Gordon’s script from a short story by Chris Crutcher illuminates Angus and his relationship to his grandfather and to his staunch, earthy mother (Kathy Bates, perfectly cast), but needs to have shed more light on Angus’ key tormentor, the school’s handsomest, most popular youth--and, inevitably, Melissa’s boyfriend--Rick (James Van Der Beek). Decrying Angus as “not normal,” Rick is actually obsessed by him, cruel to him--and even worse to Troy--to a degree that’s downright pathological.
It’s not difficult for director Patrick Read Johnson to make Rick’s behavior believable, but a simple abhorrence of those who are different and therefore vulnerable doesn’t satisfactorily explain the ferocity of Rick’s contempt.
Also, the film defies credibility in having a beautiful, youngish blonde (Anna Thomson) fall hard for the grandfather; we never see them together, yet their relationship is supposed to give hope and inspiration to Angus. “Angus” furthermore never raises the possibility and value of dieting, and it rather surprisingly downplays the value of Angus’ opportunity to transfer to a magnet school.
On the whole, however, the pluses of nicely observed, well-played characters--including a funny cameo by Rita Moreno as Angus’ dance teacher--and an important theme help offset these drawbacks in what is otherwise an appealing film.
* MPAA rating: PG-13, for some coarse adolescent language. Times guidelines: The film is appropriate for all ages.
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Charlie Talbert: Angus
George C. Scott: Ivan
Kathy Bates: Meg
James Van Der Beek: Rick
A New Line Cinema release of a Turner Pictures presentation of an Atlas Entertainment production. Director Patrick Read Johnson. Producers Dawn Steel, Charles Roven. Executive producers Robert Cavallo, Gary Levinsohn, Susan B. Landau. Screenplay by Jill Gordon; based on a short story by Chris Crutcher. Cinematographer Alexander Grusynski. Editor Janice Hampton. Costumes Jill Ohanneson. Music David Russo. Production designer Larry Miller. Art director Jeff Knipp. Set designer Theodore Sharps. Set decorator Cloudia. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes.
* In general release throughout Southern California.