This quirky coming-of-age story centers on Lucas (Corey Haim), an “accelerated” (by two grades) 14-year-old boy with a passion for insects. Lucas lucks out when he befriends newcomer Maggie (Kerri Green), and hangs out with her over the summer. To impress her, Lucas lies about his family and pretends to be friends with the popular kids. But when school starts, Lucas is humiliated at the first pep rally. When Maggie falls for the school quarterback (Charlie Sheen), Lucas talks his way onto the team in a last-ditch attempt to get her attention, but he fumbles the big pass and is crushed in a pile-on. However, his bravado wins over even the jocks who had called him a freak. The team gives him a cool jacket; Lucas is ecstatic.
Is It Any Good?
While Lucas takes its time developing, a terrific young cast and understated comic sensibility make this heartwarming mid-80s sleeper a winner. It’s an honest portrayal of the highs and lows of adolescent life. While viewers may cringe and even laugh at Lucas’s outrageous antics, they will also sympathize with him. That’s because no matter how clever Lucas is at covering the pain of being rejected, he is still the outsider who desperately wants to fit in.The supporting characters are impressively complex as well. In most films of this sort, Charlie Sheen’s football player would be the obvious villain. Playing against the stereotypical cold-hearted jock, Sheen’s character looks out for Lucas, even while he is falling for the girl Lucas loves. The casting is good all around. Excellent early performances from Haim and Sheen, and Winona Rider in her film debut, do much to place this teen angst film a cut above most.
The film centers on the character of Lucas, a skinny kid with glasses and a shock of unruly hair and a gift for trying to talk himself into situations where he doesn’t belong. Lucas is played by Corey Haim, who was Sally Field’s son in “Murphy’s Romance,” and he does not give one of those cute little boy performances that get on your nerves. He creates one of the most three-dimensional, complicated, interesting characters of any age in any recent movie. If he can continue to act this well, he will never become a half-forgotten child star, but will continue to grow into an important actor. He is that good.
But the film’s other two major actors are just as effective. Kerri Green, who was in “The Goonies,” is so subtle and sensitive as Maggie that you realize she isn’t just acting; she understands this character in her heart. As the football hero, Charlie Sheen in some ways has the most difficult role because we’re primed to see him in terms of cliches — the jock who comes along and wins the heart of the girl. Sheen doesn’t even remotely play the character that way. It is a surprise to find that he loves Lucas, that he protects him from the goons at school, that although he has won Maggie away from Lucas, he cares very deeply about sparing the kid’s feelings.
The last third of the movie revolves around a football game. So many recent films have ended with the “big match” or the “big game” that my heart started to sink when I saw the game being set up. Surely “Lucas” wasn’t going to throw away all its great dialogue and inspired acting on another formula ending? Amazingly, the movie negotiates the football game without falling into predictability. Lucas finds himself in uniform and on the field under the most extraordinary circumstances. But they are plausible circumstances, and what happens then can hardly be predicted.
There are a half-dozen scenes done so well that they could make short films of their own. They include: the time Lucas and Maggie listen to classical music and discuss her name; the scene between Maggie and the football hero in the high school’s laundry room; the scene in which Lucas is humiliated at a school assembly and turns the situation to his advantage; the way in which he takes the news that he will not be going to the dance with Maggie, and the last scene in the movie, which is one of those moments of perfect vindication that makes you want to cry.
Studio: Fox Searchlight, Director: George C. Seltzer
Run time: 100 minutes
Theatrical release: 1/1/1986, DVD release: 3/11/2003
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature themes and sexuality.