Lucas November 21, 2016
Lucas, from 1986, is equal parts perceptive and saccharine — sometimes it understands teenagers so well you’d swear it were better than Risky Business (1983), and sometimes it’s so cloyingly sentimental it wouldn’t be too far off an accusation to deem it something of an After School Special for the silver screen. But as it exists within a genre — unabashedly the teen movie — that oftentimes struggles in its deciding whether it wants to tenderly portray the emotional vulnerabilities or comedically exploit the burgeoning sexual desires of the age group, Lucas’s golden, if sometimes mawkish, heart can only be seen as its most invigorating asset.
In the film, a wonderfully expressive Corey Haim is the titular, fourteen-year-old protagonist. A wimpy outsider too spunky to follow the crowd, Lucas is perhaps in the most awkward stage of his life; he’s an old soul in a skinny child’s body longing to be taken seriously and looked at as something other than a consistently riled up kid.
Frustration with his status hits its peak when the pretty, sixteen-year-old Maggie (Kerri Green) moves to town and immediately becomes the object of Lucas’s bespectacled affections. Because she’s currently friendless and because he’s wiser than most kids his age, the two prove to be fast friends, the kind as easily able to talk about “big” subjects as they are able to simply enjoy each other’s company. For Maggie, Lucas is the younger brother she never had. For Lucas, though, Maggie is the love of his life — to be cast aside as a mere friend just won’t do.
So the world seems to be ending when she makes the cheer squad and eventually dates head footballer Cappie (Charlie Sheen). Lucas figures he and Maggie are made for one another, and so the lack of reciprocation only deepens his fears that he’ll forever be a wallflower, a pint-sized geek. Several attempts are made to prove himself. But as Rina (Winona Ryder), Lucas’s closest female friend, repeatedly points out, Lucas and Maggie are from different worlds. Try to be anything other than her best friend and he’ll end up getting nowhere.
The film loses its way a bit when Lucas decides to impress Maggie by somehow making the football team — then and there does it begin to resemble a precursor to the emotionally manipulative Underdog Becomes Hero messages of 1993’s Rudy — but before it decides schmaltz is finer than realism do we have a sensitive teen movie featuring uncommonly insightful performances and even more intuitive instances of dialogue. These actors seem to understand their characters, undoubtedly an inescapable feat due to writer/director David Seltzer’s talent for crafting fictional individuals motivated by a moral code three-dimensional enough to convince us that in front of us are not cinematic archetypes but susceptible people.
Haim is excellent as Lucas (who already stands as one of the genre’s most underrated heroes), and Green and Sheen are masterful, too, as kindhearted individuals who care a great deal about Lucas and do everything they possibly can to alleviate the pain he feels as a result of their relationship. Ryder, in her film debut, steals scenes as a girl who maybe even loves Lucas herself, but, as the Judy Garland to his Mickey Rooney, always covers her true feelings as a way to avoid getting inevitably hurt.
These are lovingly drawn characters, so it’s a shame that Seltzer takes the time to turn the film over onto its back and change it from wise tragicomedy to simplistic heart-warmer. But despite its final act being a clichéd mess I’d prefer not to linger on, Lucas is nonetheless an uncharacteristically shrewd teen movie to be compared to the similarly attuned Flirting (1991) and Pretty in Pink (1986). B