Overlooked & Underseen: Angus (1995)
If you made a list of your favorite of teen films from the past 25 years, Angus probably wouldn’t even come to mind. This is a shame... because it is every bit as good as most of the movies you’re likely to include.
Angus is directed by Patrick Read Johnson (whose upcoming film 5-25-77, based on his own experience as Star Wars “Fan Zero” after seeing the film being made pre-release, will be out in 2017, on the 40th anniversary of Star Wars. Full disclosure, I first met Johnson just after Angus was filmed). It stars Charlie Talbert (in his film debut) as Angus Bethune, a freshman on the high school’s Junior Varsity football team, whose size (and smarts) has led to him being bullied since elementary school. His main nemesis has always been Rick Sanford (James Van Der Beek in his film debut, as well. I’ve held Johnson responsible, good or bad, for Van Der Beek’s career). Of course, Rick is good looking and popular. He is also the quarterback for the team, as well as the boyfriend of Melissa Lefevre (Jurassic Park’s Ariana Richards). And, yes, Angus has a crush on her, even though they have never spoken before. Angus has a best friend named Troy. He is bullied also, and the pair of outsiders, together, attempt to navigate the minefield that is high school.
Angus’ home life is also different than most kids at his school. He is being raised by a truck-driving mother (the excellent Kathy Bates) and his ever-dozing grandpa (the most excellent George C. Scott. Yes, that George C. Scott, in one of his last film roles). Grandpa is about to marry a woman 40 years younger than he is, so everyone at home is preoccupied with the wedding. At the same time, Angus is trying to get into a science magnet school in town, believing he can start fresh and his bullying will stop.
There is some excellent work from the actors here, especially the scenes between Talbert, Scott, and Bates. There is a scene between Angus and Grandpa where they are discussing bravery (“Superman isn’t brave. Someone that knows they are indestructible isn’t brave, Angus. You are brave.”) that is especially touching. I won’t lie, I had tears flowing as I watched this over the past weekend. Van Der Beek excels at being a complete asshole. Richards is lovely in her interactions with Angus. Also, be on the look-out for Irvin Kershner (Johnson is Star Wars Fan Zero, remember?), of all people, who turns up in a couple of scenes as Scott’s chess playing friend.
The music in the film is also worth noting. Yes, it is very much of the time, but it fits film. Green Day, The Smoking Popes, Ash, Mazzy Star, and Weezer (whose song is written specifically for the film) all appear. During the opening credit sequence there is a marching band playing Love Spit Love’s “Am I Wrong” with Richard Butler (of the Psychedelic Furs) on vocals.
The bullying message behind this movie might be more relevant today than when Angus was released. In 1995, kids didn’t really have to deal with the Internet (AOL was around back then, but today’s ever present social media was not, so cyber-bullying wasn’t much of a factor as now). Rick Sanford and his football player friends are relentless in attacking Angus at every turn. He is humiliated daily and yet, although he wants to give up, ultimately, he doesn’t. This is a movie all young teens should see. If Angus helps one young person going through the same stuff as Angus and Troy (and ultimately Melissa, as well), then this week’s recommendation will have been worth it. Please do not let the fact this is a teen movie stop you from watching it. It’s a fine film, with strong messages for all ages.