What makes the teenage years so vexing is how a young person's line of thinking evolves from the logical, unadultered mannerisms of childhood to the obstinate, interpretive idiosyncrasy of adulthood. As children, we might remember seeing things and make a simple yet direct remark about it, yet, as adults, we might see things, stop to think about it, taking into account all our past experiences and teachings, and make an "observation", when we soon realize that there are other people that have their own "observations". Worse yet is how the young person does not immediately see this transformation.
It is during these years where we begin to contemplate a new reality, one based on indifference and hopelessness. It is here where the young person begins to interpret ideas, histories, and ideologies of all sorts, however good or bad they intend to be, and have the option of either rejecting or accepting them. This is where our hero, Angus Bethune (played flawlessly by Charlie Talbert) is thrown in. As a child, he has always been the butt of jokes and, along with his best friend Troy Wedberg (Chris Owen), the target of bullies. His protection has relied on wit, humor, and physical prowess. His love for Melissa Lefevre (Ariana Richards) is just as strong as his hate for Rick Sanford (James Van der Beek).
Yet, showing his affection to his yearning love is, in his opinion, an unreasonable goal. What could possibly make Angus reason like this? Could it be Rick? By the time we are done with the first act we see that Rick has already managed to mentally, emotionally, and socially control Angus. Rick is also highly manipulative, as he uses his bullying tactics over Troy to betray his own best friend. As if that wasn't enough, he's the good-looking quarterback and the head of the class, which yields ostensible power to him. He shows no compassion to whoever he feels is not "normal", that is, whoever does not follow his concepts of physical and social beauty. Although the film does not demonstrate how Rick obtained such line of though, his mind is no-doubtedly locked in to this ideology. Aptly would Camus describe Rick and his cronies "no longer represent men, but an idea raised to the temperature of the most inflexible of wills."
What about Angus? What about his influences? He seems to have a very supportive and eccentric family composed of his truck-driving mother (Kathy Bates) and his active, unrelenting grandfather (George C. Scott). Troy, equally eccentric, provides support at school. Yet nothing works: In his mind, his positive traits (good at science, excellent tackler, full of heart) cannot overcome his negative ones (overweight, timid, reclusive). He doesn't open his blinds in his bedroom to let the sunlight in, and he already has plans to transfer to another school, where he can be accepted for once. He wants nothing to do with the outside world, which, he feels, doesn't want him anyway.
When Rick forces Angus to come into this world, by rigging an election so as to make him dance with Melissa, Angus becomes really confused. Will Angus go to the dance or not? He can have his "moment" with Melissa, yet he will risk humiliation, knowing that Rick had set this up. However, the real question this second act is this: If he makes a decision, what will it be based on? How will other people and their ideas affect his decision.
Hereafter, his support group will aggravate Angus' confusion by bombarding him with ideology. His Grampa says "Screw 'em" to anybody who opposes what he wants (of which includes marrying a woman thirty years his junior), demonstrating that Angus should not fear what others think of him, thus he should go. His mother wants Angus to focus on his studies, so that he can get his ticket out of Owatonna High, thus he should not go. Troy, in his whimsical self, thinks Angus needs to change his image and manner in order to find acceptance, thus he should go. Angus himself thinks that, in spite of the opportunity to dance with the girl of his dreams, he knows that Rick will make a fool out of him, thus he should not go. How can Angus make sense out of all this?
This is where Grampa comes in. He knows his grandson very well, and he has faith in Angus' warm qualities. He even goes out to get him a nice tuxedo, albeit a plum-colored one, but Angus refuses to wear it. Angus loves his Grampa, but Angus feels weak upon the implications of the dance. This all changes, however, when Grampa dies. Early in the film, Grampa wished that Angus could talk to Melissa just once before he died. Sadly, he will not live to see this. When Grampa's fiancee April (Anna Levine) brings the plum suit to Angus, Angus realizes he has betrayed Grampa's faith in him. He will say "Screw 'em", and set out to attain his goal as well as his self-esteem and self-determination....
Thus, Angus no longer sees Rick as a bully, but as a danger to his well-being. Melissa is not merely a love interest, but a token for being courageous and brave. He has a label for these people now, based on numerous levels of reasoning.
What's so amazing about this film is how it is richly paced. You can take delight in the visual aspects of the film and show compassion for these people. Composition creates a moving experience with the story, using the warm colors of autumn. Music also plays an important role, as it balances teenage angst with feelings of longing and disillusion.
How sad that you truly can't enjoy a film like this if you see it quickly! Angus warrants a deeper study into the nature of bullying, use of power, teenage confusion and conditioning, obesity, and the power to overcome, themes that lie much deeper into its "after-school-special" facade. Don't let the theme of acceptance thwart you off! I must warn you: If you felt alone and alienated in high school, this movie won't disappoint. If you didn't feel alone and alienated, either avoid this film or stop denying it, take the bitter pill, and see, no, "observe" it.
Now go have another.