The film is based on the true story of Rocky Dennis (Stoltz), a kid who was born with lionitis, and suffered a lot for this despite his mother Florence "Rusty" Dennis (Cher) always trying to give him a normal life.
This film provides examples of:
- Berserk Button: Normally any jokes on Rocky's disfigurement don't bother him. Specifically ones where others who don't know him mistake his face for a mask, to which he responds by pretending he can't get it off jokingly. However after his Disabled Love Interest is forced to leave him, it gets played straight when he slams a rude teenager against the wall.Rocky: I'll take my mask off if you take yours off, you son of a bitch.
- Beast and Beauty: Rocky has a disorder which causes his skull to be very enlarged and twisted, looking like a mask. He falls in love with blind girl Diana Adams, who he met at a summer camp for disabled teenagers. He teaches her how to "see" colors by using various objects to represent them. She still stays with him even after she feels his face and sees how deformed he is.
- Biker Babe: Rusty.
- Blind and the Beast: The main character has a degenerative disease which has greatly disfigured his face, but this doesn't stop him from finding romance with a blind girl during a summer camp job.
- Disabled Love Interest: The blind Diana, played by Laura Dern.
- Downer Ending: Rocky dies all of a sudden, leading Rusty to have a Heroic Breakdown.
- Foregone Conclusion: The real Rocky Dennis died at age 16, meaning that his film incarnation isn't going to fare much better.
- The Grotesque: Rocky, a gentle boy who unfortunately has a horribly disfigured skull.
- Parental Substitute: Rusty's biker boyfriend, Gar, isn't Rocky's biological father, but he still serves the role as a caring father figure for him.
- Parents as People: Rusty clearly loves her son and fights tooth and nail to provide him with a normal life, but she has her own personal issues to deal with, such as her history of drug abuse.
- Professional Sex Ed: Subverted.
- Yank the Dog's Chain: Every time something good happens with Rocky.