A 1995 coming-of-age teen movie based on Chris Crutcher's short story "A Brief Moment in the Life of Angus Bethune", directed by Patrick Read Johnson and starring Charlie Talbert and a young James Van Der Beek in their first film roles.
Talbert stars as Angus Bethune, who in his own words is "a fat kid who's good at science and fair at football." He's also got a vicious rivalry with pretty-boy Jerk Jock Rick Sanford (Van Der Beek), who decides to play a cruel prank on Angus by rigging an election that nominates Angus as the Winter Ball King opposite Rick's girlfriend, Melissa LeFevre (Ariana Richards). On one hand, Angus knows he's being set up for humiliation and doesn't want to play along, but on the other hand, he's had a crush on the (in his mind) unattainable Melissa for years, leaving him unsure of what to do. Helping him along are his geeky best friend Troy (Chris Owen), his loving and slightly unorthodox mom (Kathy Bates) and his equally loving and much less orthodox grandpa, Ivan (George C. Scott).
Much like the similar Lucas, this film is one of those extremely rare teen movies starring an awkward social outcast who's not portrayed as an object of ridicule for the audience, and like Lucas, the protagonist pursues much more noble and sympathetic ends than the stock teen-flick goal of simply "getting laid." Roger Ebert loved the film for precisely these reasons.
The movie was officially unavailable on DVD for a long time, but can now be purchased as a made-to-order DVD from Warner Bros.. (who inherited the film via the Turner Broadcasting merger— it was one of Turner's few solo film productions, and was distributed in theatres by another of Turner's acquisitions, New Line Cinema).
This film provides examples of:
- Academic Athlete: Angus is good enough to be on the football team and excels in academics at the same time.
- Adaptation Expansion: The source material was a short story, so obviously there's a lot of this going on, although it stays true to the original premise.
- Arc Words: "I'm still here!"
- And "Screw 'em" is used to great effect several times.
- Armor-Piercing Question: "So which is it, Rick: are you normal, or are you just one of us?"
- Bully Hunter: Deconstructed. Angus is perfectly capable of taking on Rick mano-a-mano (he pretty much spent his early childhood breaking Rick's nose at least once a grade). However, that's not going to help his immediate situation. It never really did.
- Reality Ensues: Bullies do what they do by seeking out what they perceive to be easy targets. Why doesn't Rick Sanford back down despite having a glass nose? Because Angus is an easy target for Rick in another form: Angus' naturally low social standing, and the fact that Melissa, Angus' object of obsession, is Rick's girlfriend. A few broken noses is probably worth the sick kicks he's been getting with a killer hand like that.
- Character Title
- Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Grandpa's fiancee April is a good-hearted but somewhat odd bird, and not just because she wants to marry a man thirty years her senior.
- Color Motifs: Angus' science project involves a foreign element (colored red) either blending in or being rejected by a homogeneous body (colored blue). Later, we get an overhead shot of of him wearing a red jacket at a school spirit rally where everyone else is wearing blue, the school color. Near the end, the foreign element in his experiment finally mutates and is accepted by the larger body, turning the compound in his petri dish to a purple color... Just like the tux Angus wears when he decides to attend the dance after all.
- Demoted to Extra: Several scenes with Grandpa's fiance April were left on the cutting room floor (they're usually restored in cable TV airings); in the theatrical cut, we don't meet her until the day of their wedding.
- Determinator: Discussed by Angus' grandpa: Superman is not brave, because he is invincible, and you can't be brave when you're invincible. But it's the people who are destructible and know it, and keep on going, who are truly brave.
- Badass Boast: "I'm still here, asshole!"
- Disappeared Dad: Angus's father had a heart attack while Angus' mom was in labor. This was changed from the original short story where Angus' parents were alive, but both were gay. Word of God states that this was done so that his parents' homosexuality could not be construed as a principal reason Angus is tormented by his peers. (A line still exists in the film where Meg refers to the magnet school Angus is applying for as "somewhere he can go where he won't have to account for who his parents are".)
- Even Evil Has Standards:
- Rick's toadies both found the final prank funny, but they draw the line and try to stop him when he loses it and physically attacks Angus. They also both applaud "The Reason You Suck" Speech Angus gives to Rick right afterwards.
- Much to Rick's anger, they also applaud Angus after he shrugs off the prank and has a less than embarrassing slow dance with Melissa.
- The Freelance Shame Squad: The squad pops up when Rick runs Angus' boxers up the flagpole, and again when he pulls his prank at the Winter Ball crowning. Troy, Melissa and Principal Metcalf are the only ones unamused by either act.
- Glass Cannon: Rick himself is athletic enough to be a star football player and his punches are enough to hurt Angus. However, he himself goes down pretty easily if Angus is pissed off enough to put a hurting on him.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Rick rigs the ball voting so Angus will be humiliated at being matched up with Rick's beautiful girlfriend. Melissa has far more in common with Angus than Rick realizes and takes a liking to him in the end.
- Jerk Jock: Rick Sanford, all the way.
- Kick the Dog: Whether it's playing cruel pranks, lying about Melissa's dread of dancing with Angus just to hurt his feelings, or accidentally breaking Troy's arm when the kid tries to run away, Rick punts several puppies clear through the goalposts in his quest to humiliate Angus.
- Lovable Jock: Angus counts as this since he's on the football team, being the sympathetic protagonist of the movie. Ironically, being a football player doesn't seem to raise his social status much and he still has to struggle to be able to get the girl and be at peace with himself through it all.
- Mood Whiplash: Ivan and April's wedding.
- Not So Different: Once he gets to know her, Angus learns that despite being a popular, attractive cheerleader, Melissa is just as scared and insecure about herself as he is about himself. She even sweats when she gets nervous, just like he does.Melissa: Do you ever get tired of being who you are?Angus: Do you know who you're talking to?
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Principal Metcalf is very sympathetic to Angus, and he frowns heavily on Rick's cruelty.
- Running Gag:
- Small Role, Big Impact: Melissa is the force that drives the motivations of Angus throughout the film but she herself doesn't really start getting any real important focus or development until the third act of the film.
- Spotlight-Stealing Squad: Rick is this for Angus; at the football game at the start of the film, when Rick's pass is intercepted, Angus causes the fumble that Rick recovers and scores the game-winner. The crowd rushes Rick while stepping over a prone Angus.
- Stepford Smiler: Though she seems quite cheerful and always has a smile ready for her friends, Melissa is secretly depressed, suffers from bulimia, and it's suggested that her boyfriend Rick may be abusive to her.
- Tacky Tuxedo: Since it was the only one in his size, Angus wears a particularly hideous purple one to the Winter Ball.
- Talk to the Fist: A particularly heelish one, as Rick sucker punches Angus during the climactic scene.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Angus gives a truly fantastic one to Rick.
- Violence Is the Only Option: Once Rick realizes his Sadist Show he worked so hard to arrange for prom goes well for Angus, he gets vicious and sucker punches Angus. Angus shoves Rick back into the steps of the stage, but then subverts this by stating that despite being quite capable of beating him, he doesn't feel the need to compete with him at all.
- Your Mom: When Rick makes fun of Angus having his clothes stolen ("I'd lend you my shirt, but I'm afraid it might rip"), Troy is quick to fire back, "That's because it's cheap. Like your mother."