Typically if you are a character in a Hollywood teen movie, you want to stay as far away as possible from proms – or their equivalent. If you’re unpopular, the chances that you’ll be humiliated are sky high; if you’re a bully, those chances will rise even higher; and even if you’re neither, something bizarre – such as discovering that your date is really of the opposite gender – might occur. You can never tell. But if characters avoided proms, there would be no moment where the protagonist develops the oratorical powers of Winston Churchill and delivers a speech that produces stunned silence and then a slow clap. In “Angus,” based on the short story by young adult novelist Chris Crutcher, the prom climax is predictable but thanks to the performance of the lead, Charlie Talbert, still satisfying enough. Who doesn’t want to see the villains get their comeuppance, especially if they’re as smirky as the one played by James Van Der Beek here.
“Angus,” also features perhaps the only onscreen adolescent football player to suffer from a lack of self-confidence. Even odder is the fact that Charlie also excels at academics, particularly science, a combination which one would assume would not sap your esteem, but being overweight makes him shyer around girls, especially his hopeless crush (Ariana Richards). His loyal sidekick (Chris Owens) may be outwardly more confident, but still harbors insecurities over his own looks. His nemesis, James Van Der Beek, sadly only gets more good looking every time he taunts Charlie to the point of breaking his nose. (Don’t you hate it when that happens?) Unfortunately, James is also plotting something truly evil when the film begins: mainly rigging the election results so that Charlie is given the honor of dancing with Ariana at the upcoming dance. However, Charlie may have an unexpected outlet as he has the chance to transfer to a magnet school. So he does have a bolt hole should things get too unpleasant.
In the short story, the main character has gay parents, but that has been revised for the movie, and Charlie now lives with single mom, Kathy Bates, and his crusty but loveable grandfather, George C. Scott, who provides moral guidance even if he has odd ideas about what is appropriate to wear to a school dance (a purple tuxedo). Only marginally more helpful is Chris who attempts to teach Charlie how to dance – something that will be used against him at the prom, thanks to the ever nefarious James. But Charlie, who obviously has his head on straight to begin with – at least compared to most movie teens – just needs some time and guidance to make the right choice. And then he will discover that Ariana liked him all along – for his character, not his looks. And James will be satisfyingly humiliated, even though he remains a self-centered jerk. But as “Revenge of the Nerds,” showed us earlier, there’s a lot more Charlies out there than there are of the “beautiful people.” Which is a lesson worth reiterating.