1995 - PG-13 - 90 Mins.
|Director: Patrick Read Johnson
|Producer: Charles Roven and Dawn Steel
|Written By: Jill Gordon
|Starring: Kathy Bates, George C. Scott, Charlie Talbert, Ariana Richards and James Van Der
|Review by: Bill King
"Angus" is much more serious than it appears. This film could easily be mistaken for a high school comedy about a social misfit. The director is Patrick Read Johnson, who helmed one of the worst movies I've ever seen: "Baby's Day Out." He rebounded nicely after that failed experiment to deliver a genuinely moving comedy/drama about an outsider who has difficulty fitting in. Angus is an overweight freshman, a talented football player and a smart student, and he's hopelessly in love with a girl out of his reach.
Your purple tux clashes with my lipstick.
Angus Bethune (Charlie Talbert) would never win a popularity contest. He's a nice guy who goes to school everyday to face bullies with nothing better to do than pick on weaker kids. Rick Sanford (James Van Der Beek; you read that correctly) is the high school quarterback with the prettiest girlfriend in school, Melissa Lefevre ("Jurassic Park"'s Ariana Richards). Angus' only friend is Troy Wedberg (Chris Owen, better known as the Shermanator), a boy with big ears and freckles. Together, Angus and Troy dodge bullets fired daily from Rick and his posse. Angus is fed up with this treatment and wants to start over at another school. Part of the story shows Angus preparing a science project that is part of the admission process for his prospective school.
With the school dance coming up, Rick has another idea up his sleeve. He will rig the voting process so that Angus wins the title of King, while Melissa is expected to win Queen. Rick knows that Angus would love to go to the dance with Melissa, so by fixing the contest, Angus is faced with what he's always dreamed of but under twisted circumstances. Being shy and distant from his classmates, Angus would be extremely distraught over the idea of going onstage with his biggest crush.
While Angus deals with the dance situation, he contends with a mother and grandfather whom he feels don't understand his situation. Meg Bethune (Kathy Bates) is a caring mother trying to raise a son who experiences ridicule day after day. In an impassioned speech, she tells her father Ivan (George C. Scott) about what her son goes through. He calls Angus' decision to switch schools cowardly, but she supports it, and gives examples of the kinds of pranks that students play on him.
The movie is more than a standard story about the underdog who gets the girl at the end. It's a serious look at what many students face in high school. It's not as heart-breaking as a movie like "Welcome to the Dollhouse" (1995), because it does add some teen humor to its story, but it's more realistic than "American Pie" (a good movie in its own way). The way the film ends is exactly how it should end. Angus flips out on Rick during the dance, after one last prank that signified that enough was enough. What he says rings very true and should resonate deeply among anyone who was picked on in high school.
Charlie Talbert comes across so naturally we might suspect he's been acting since a very young age, but that's not the case. This was his first movie, and he makes Angus out to be very considerate and courageous. The constant torment that he undergoes would cause many students to crack, but not Angus. He wakes up every day knowing what he must face and realizing that people like Rick are only concerned with popularity. Ariana Richards, who has recently put acting on hold to pursue a promising career in painting (her last film was 2001's "Tremors 3: Back to Perfection"), as Melissa, doesn't make a real contribution to the story until the dance scene, but there's a good reason for that. The film intentionally keeps her character distant from Angus until the end, so that he can be surprised by her good-natured personality. Part of what attracted him to Melissa was the fact that she was out-of-reach. It appears that she has her own imperfections which she kept hidden so well that Rick wasn't aware of them.
In a surprising turn, the late George C. Scott's character is somewhat ineffective. He's unaware of the true extent of Angus' torture, so he gives well-meaning advice to his grandson that just doesn't cut it in today's day and age. Since high school students want to be socially acceptable, his advice to "screw 'em!" is counterproductive to Angus' social development. Angus figures out his own solution. He confronts Rick instead of ignoring him, so that he can walk through the halls without fear of attack.
Grandpa Ivan tries to compare Angus' situation with his own. He's marrying a woman (Anna Thomson) who is 40 years younger than he, and he experiences resistance for that decision. He doesn't care what people think about his marriage, and by that same token, Angus shouldn't care what people say about him. That is an incorrect analogy. Everyone disapproves of Ivan's marriage, but nobody is bullying him. Angus puts up with students who make the privilege of education into a survival quest. Screenwriter Jill Gordon should have crafted his dialogue more carefully. He's supposed to be the wise old grandfather, but instead, he's simply an out-of-touch character. On the other hand, Kathy Bates is perfect as the caring mother. She completely understands what her son is going through and she'll back up any decision he makes that will make him happier.
In an unforeseeable but appropriate coincidence, James Van Der Beek plays a cocky high school football hotshot in "Angus," but, later in his career, the actor would play a conniving college drug dealer in "The Rules of Attraction" (2002). See how people like that turn out?