Though its fat-kid-overcoming-school-bullies-and-winning-cheerleader’s-heart tale suggests the Platonic essence of the “Afterschool Special,” “Angus” comes off as a genially engaging surprise. The effort to tease out an overly obvious concept to feature length does produce a few dull moments, but nice perfs, smooth direction, a well-integrated rock soundtrack and general air of affability could snare the attention of teen auds.
Pic’s opening sequence uses several age levels of tyke thesps to show that the tension between fat Angus and handsome Rick over pretty Melissa has been a lifelong affair. Come freshman year of high school, things have only worsened. Angus is now the kind of kid who, on the football field, effects the game-saving fumble, then gets trampled by crowds on their way to mob Rick, the touch-down-scoring quarterback.
Naturally, cute cheerleader Melissa is Rick’s g.f. Angus, in fact, has never even spoken to her, all he can do is moon over her photo, fantasize and confide his woes to monkey-faced Troy, his archetypally nerdy best friend.
At home, Angus gets little more than token consolation from his truck-driver mom, Meg (a role that’s curiously small and underdeveloped considering that Kathy Bates plays it). If more sympathy comes his way from Grandpa Ivan (George C. Scott), the septuagenarian’s basic advice regarding all detractors — “Screw ’em!” — hardly suits a kid in the deepest throes of adolescent self-doubt.
Plot turns on the latest insult concocted by Rick. While everyone expects the winter prom’s king and queen to be the popular quarterback and cheerleader, Rick rigs the election so that Melissa becomes queen, while the title of king goes to Angus, who’s being set up for the mother of all humiliations. But the scheme is as cruel to Melissa as it is to Angus, and thanks to that miscalculation, Rick assures that goodness and girth will triumph resoundingly over smug BMOC superiority.
Moralizing that life’s oddballs and outcasts deserve their moments of victory over perfect blond godlings, pic rests on a message that couldn’t be more timeworn — or is that time-less? The marvel is that such a done-to-death theme can still be presented afresh; “Angus” accomplishes that modest feat by taking its material just seriously enough.
Jill Gordon’s script is emotionally ingenuous and pleasingly to-the-point, while Patrick Read Johnson’s skillful, unpretentious direction involves some fine work by cast’s appealing youngsters, especially Charlie Talbert as Angus and James Van Der Beek as Rick. Tech credits are all first-rate.