“Teen angst” can almost be seen as a genre that spawned from the 1980s; countless films have tackled the themes associated with high school and growing up, but generally these films wallow in glamorized sex, outlandish pranks, and casual drug use without consequence. In other words, they handle it in a fictional way that nowhere near approaches the issues that kids of this age deal with. David Seltzer’s feature debut Lucas, on the other hand, is remarkable in its portrayal of a lonely boy who finds his first love. It chooses to depict the gracelessness of the protagonist in a revealing and true-to-life way, turning what could have been another run-of-the-mill sex romp into an uplifting, funny, and tender character study.

Lucas (Cory Haim) spends most of his time alone and out in the wilderness, appreciating what the world has to offer. He is fascinated by the insects that inhabit the tall grasses of his Illinois town, and seeks to preserve them. In one of his adventures, he stumbles upon Maggie (Kerri Green) and the moment he lays eyes on her it’s all over. The scene struck a beautiful chord in my heart: when Maggie first sees Lucas, she takes little notice of him, and although she’s cordial, she continues on about her business once their conversation has come to a close. Lucas, on the other hand, has been transformed. He stares at her like she’s a relic, a one of a kind, and is transfixed by her grace. Corey Haim was only 15 at the time of the role, and I can only assume he’d experienced something in his life similar to this, because he hits the nail on the head with this one.

This occurs in the dead center of summer, and Maggie takes a liking to Lucas because she is new to town and thus doesn’t know anyone. Their relationship starts off somewhat awkwardly because she is 16 and he is 14, but the more you observe the two, the more you learn about the tact with which Kerri Green and Corey Haim handle their roles. It isn’t long before Lucas’s love for her becomes clear, though he does his best to stifle it. Maggie, on the other hand, treats their relationship as strictly platonic but Lucas is none the wiser. He remains oblivious to this, and rightfully so, because his quirky nature comes as a result of his minimal social skills. He more than makes up for this deficit in intellectual brainpower, which only further deepens the character. There are no one-dimensional characters to be found in this film.

Summer ends, and school begins. It’s that time all teenagers associate with stress and anxiety. These kids don’t really care whether or not they can pass next week’s exam. Rather, they just care that they look good doing so. Lucas and Maggie are no exceptions. Lucas does his best to fit in, but he’s found his proper place amongst the dorky clique. Maggie, on the other hand, is new to the scene and immediately takes a liking to football star Cappie (Charlie Sheen). Lucas has trouble understanding her newfound crush, and he’s driven away once Maggie and Cappie’s relationship reaches it’s boiling point. Generally, these scenarios involve a hero (Lucas) and a villain (Cappie) but there is nothing to dislike in Cappie. Sheen perfectly suits the role of a whimsical, charming, and attractive high schooler who not only cares for Maggie, but has also protected Lucas from bullies in the past. The real meat and bones of this love triangle comes not from confrontation but instead revelation: Lucas is too young for Maggie, and he must accept the fact that he just isn’t her type. These are issues that we have all dealt with, and writer/director David Seltzer keenly portrays them as tremendous in the life of an inexperienced, curious young boy.

Despite Cappie’s attempts to reconcile with Lucas on the issue, Lucas decides he must prove himself in the forum most important to the high school age: the football field. What could have potentially been a flagrant rip off of Rudy instead becomes something else entirely, deviating from the clichés that worked themselves into 1980s sports films. There truly are no moments in Lucas that are simplified for the sake of the audience. We are here to observe a lonely boy trying to make a name for himself, not a stereotype in a Hollywood design.

Supporting roles are strong as well: Bruno (Tom Hodges) is the bully and provides Lucas with his most hilarious and witty rebuttals. Rina (Winona Ryder) plays Lucas’s female counterpart, a loner with a crush who is too bashful to come to him with the truth. These sincere portrayals, while small, facilitate the story and immerse the audience within the halls of this high school. There isn’t a dull moment in Lucas, and although it lacks the pizazz and pacing that come with films such as The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink, it more than makes up for it in handsome storytelling.

Kyle Kogan is a film critic living in Chicago.

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