Friday, May 8, 2009

Angus (1995, Patrick Read Johnson)

The trailer to Angus seemed immediately mature to me as a ten year old and the young leads much older. There was also the then-hip Green Day headed ensemble kidz punk and "alternative" music soundtrack provided by the executive producer of the film and the band. This is a highly neglected film although the starting price is $17 on Amazon for the VHS, indicating that those who found the film at the time fell in love with it or at least liked it a lot. Charlie Talbert's starring debut came from being discovered telling a joke at a fast food restaurant in a Wendy's, which he mentioned when appeared unscheduled at a rare New Beverly Cinema screening. The breezy script and dialogue make the film fun if not true to life, at least as true to life as any Hollywood teen movie gets and handily the most sensitive movie so much expense was taken with. This was the "fat kid" teen movie before the genre really took off with guys like James Van Der Beek, who also has his debut playing the smirking football bully and was about to break out as a heartthrob playing both football players and sensitive filmmakers. Angus is both mature and sensitive as possible for a movie on this scale when the cold robotic irony of Juno youth movies increasingly detached from emotion.

The breezy script and dialogue in particular are on their own make Angus witty, and although this is an old fashioned underdog story the world comes to life by having many true to life disappointments, bad circumstances and characters who come off as genuine people many times because sometimes can't depend on each other or can only do so much. There's a lot of funny one-liners and original lingo that feels natural from great young actors in every role and each of them feel fully formed from another. The sweet or sad moments never dip into insincerity even when they're corny and the limits of PG-13 swearing are worked around in hilariously creative ways. Ariana Richards, the rugrat of Jurassic Park fame, is the object of Angus' desires thwarted by Van Der Beek, and along with his nerdy sidekick (Chris Owen, another stellar actor for his age) they form an archetypical cast of characters whose plot together is essentially a sitcom, and yet their little exchanges that drive things forward always feel parsed from reality. As a balancing act between the presumed needs of a "teen movie" and a heartfelt plea for tolerance amongst teens, the results are commendable.

Evidently in the original story both Angus' mother and father were alive and both were gay, including Kathy Bates' truck driver mom. Readers of the original short story must have felt disappointed. The awkward nature of Angus' home life survives in a watered-down form, but often the awkwardness of home life is what makes the story of a young person feel real. Whether test audiences were polled for the reshoots or a nervous New Line did it first there's really no excuse when you came that far during the first round of filming. Ween even wrote a song for the movie referencing a gay truck driving mom that had to be cut! Bates is typically good and has a great standout monologue about how her son has to be brave at school which I recalled really touched me. George C. Scott, whose scenes apparently required the most reshooting after the gay parents edits, is also quite good as the kindly grandfather.

This is a rare great movie for anyone in its awkward-years target demographic, alternately tasteful in the depiction of teenage life while pleasurably crude in the way teenage outsider humor must be to evoke laughs when times are hard. Highly deserving of DVD release and further rediscovery! What's the holdup??

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