I bought and watched Angus last week. If you haven’t watched Angus, and you should, it’s probably because the distribution system for the movie was godawful. It never received a proper DVD release. It should have been one of the biggest teen movies of the 1990s, mentioned in the same breath as Clueless and Ten Things I Hate About You. Instead it spent only two weeks in theaters, grossing less than $5 million. Whether it was because it was marketed poorly, or because it lacked bankable stars, the film didn’t make much of an impact at the time except on people like me, and it’s largely forgotten today.
Before I get into the movie, the lack of attention towards it didn’t extend to the soundtrack, which was very well received because it rips. It’s a perfect distillation of 90s pop punk with a couple of obscure tracks by big artists. “J.A.R.” by Green Day and the Weezer song are anchors, but it also features Smoking Popes, The Muffs, Dance Hall Crashers, Riverdales before Ben become the Ben Weasel of today, Pansy Division, Ash, Tilt, and the slow dance song to end all slow dance songs, “Fade Into You” by Mazzy Star. Easily a top 10 compilation of the 1990s.
What follows is a summary of the plot, so tread carefully if you don’t want a 24-year-old movie ruined. Better yet, go to Amazon and rent or buy it, then come back (PLEASE DON’T LEAVE).
The story centers on Angus Bethune (Charlie Talbert in his first film role, which he received an audition for after the director heard him making jokes in an Illinois Wendy’s), a 14-year-old living in Minnesota who is good at science and football, and picked on by classmates because of his large size and shyness. Angus lives with his mom (Kathy Bates) and grandfather (George C. Scott), and his only friend is Troy (Chris Owen- Shermanator in American Pie), a tiny nerd with ears that stick straight out. Angus is in love with Melissa LeFevre (Ariana Richards- Annoying granddaughter in Jurassic Park), cheerleader and girlfriend of his lifelong nemesis Rick Sanford (Pre-Dawson James Van Der Beek), the star quarterback. E from Entourage also appears as one of Rick’s lackeys.
The plot is about what you’d expect from a 90s teen coming of age movie. Angus wants to escape, and his opportunity to do so comes through potential admission to a magnet school for gifted science students. Rick is aware of Angus’s feelings about Melissa and decides to rig the voting for Winter Ball King and Queen so that Angus and Melissa will win, forcing Angus into being the center of attention so that he can be used as an object of ridicule. Angus, who has a history of breaking Rick’s nose, is warned by the principal that if he retaliates against Rick he will be expelled and lose his chance at the new school and fresh start.
Angus gets dance lessons, Angus gets a hideous plum-colored suit, Angus’s grandfather dies on his wedding day. Troy is threatened by Rick and his friends and provides a video tape of Angus practicing dancing with a blow up doll and describing his feelings for Melissa. Troy is rewarded for this with a broken arm. At the dance, Rick plays the tape, embarrassing Angus and causing Melissa to cry. Angus thinks she’s freaked out by his revelation that he likes her, but it’s actually fury at Rick for being a piece of shit. She also reveals she’s bulimic, which, weird writing decision, but I get that the purpose was to show that even seemingly perfect people have problems. That said, man it still sticks out like a sore thumb. Angus confronts Rick, Rick calls Angus a freak, and Angus rallies the entire gym by declaring that while he isn’t normal, neither are any of the other kids. They’re all insecure freaks trying their best. Rick lashes out, and Troy ends up breaking his nose with his cast. Angus, Melissa, and Troy dance with goofy abandon out on the dance floor. Angus walks Melissa home, gets a kiss, and decides to tough it out instead of transferring high schools. Roll credits.
All of that sounds pretty straightforward, but the thing that sets Angus apart in my mind is that it radiates decency. You even see it in little ways. This was the mid-90s, a prime era for throwing around derogatory words for mentally challenged and gay people as laugh lines, and Angus never goes there. The go to word for acting goofy in the movie is “dildos.” It’s the perfect choice, because it’s not going to offend anybody unless you happened to be offended that dildos exist. It’s a kind touch, in a movie full of them. As for Angus, he’s a bit of a pill because all teenagers are assholes to some degree. He wants desperately to fit in, and it isn’t until his grandfather passes away that Angus finally takes his advice to heart, and says “screw ‘em,” and is able to take some pride in who he is. He’s a smart kid, and good at football, and if it weren’t for his passive nature I don’t see how somebody like Rick could have bullied him, knowing full well that Angus could wipe the floor with him at any time.
It’s unfortunate that it takes the death of George C. Scott to get him there, but it also provides that push to mature that we all need sometimes. Once Angus realizes that it’s okay to just be who he is, a smart kid who’s bigger than everybody else, he lets everybody else know that they can be freaks and that’s okay. It’s probably the most relatable message contained in any teen movie, even if in our desperate bids for acceptance it’s one most of us don’t want to accept.
Angus was me. Angus was us. We suffered indignities every day, and we hoped the next day would be better. Angus got his day in the sun, the day we were all wishing for.
Have you ever seen Angus? What did you think? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter.
Absolutely love this movie back when I was young and even now in my late 30s.