Looking Back: Lucas (1986)

Whenever someone asks me what I was like as a young boy, I just point to this movie. In some ways, I was nothing like Lucas Bly, the title character played by Corey Haim, particularly in the way he was an “accelerated” child genius. Yet, in so many other ways, the character reminds so much of myself when I was younger, it makes me cringe with recognition. Like Lucas, I wore a big pair of glasses, rarely went anywhere without either a fedora or my grandfather’s fishing hat and was self imposed fashion victim. In school, I was sometimes too smart for the room but too dumb to realize how insufferable I was. Poorly chosen words occasionally hurt the feelings of those I cared about, though I didn’t always realize it at the time. I was hopelessly nerdy and used to answer the question of what time is it in this manner: “it is exactly and precisely…11:15.” Sure, I was kind of cute but really, so strange, I’m amazed I had as many friends as I did. When you’re an adorable, child weirdo with an early love for performing, falling hard for a beautiful girl feels like the world around you is changing. This is certainly true of Lucas, whose friendship with the lovely Maggie (Kerri Green) brings disorder to his already difficult life.

Lucas meets Maggie one summer and, rather than blowing him off, she becomes fast friends with the odd little boy carrying an insect net. Lucas is love struck immediately, while Maggie clearly treasures their unique friendship. Once school begins, her attention to Lucas switches to Cappie (Charlie Sheen), the handsome football player who is also one of Lucas’ best friends. Cappie and Maggie try to keep their growing attraction a secret from Lucas but he catches on quickly. In Lucas’ mind, his being 14 and Maggie being 19 is the only thing that could keep them apart.

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This is one of Sheen’s most endearing turns and Haim is dazzling, but its Green who shines the brightest. After her shrill turn as Josh Brolin’s girlfriend in “The Goonies,” Green gives Maggie genuine depth. It’s refreshing to see a movie where the nerdy boy has multiple layers, the jock is a kind big brother figure and the pretty girl isn’t snotty or cruel. By avoiding these stereotypes in the lead characters, we’re reminded how high school is full of teens who often give in to their expected roles and cliques but many more who manage to establish their own rhythm and personality.

Even with a few scenes that are broader than necessary, this one is refreshingly out of step with other high school comedies, both in the 1980’s and today. The climactic football is a nice touch, as it bypasses formula and goes in a surprising direction. The only thing here that truly doesn’t work is the music score, a synthesizer relic that screams 1986.

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Writer/director David Seltzer courts convention but manages to find ways to keep the story fresh and focus on character rather than contrivance. The central love triangle is handled with compassion and performed with sensitivity by the actors. Everyone here is first rate and feels like a real person, not a stock figure. Winona Ryder, in her film debut, stands out as a girl with a crush on Lucas and Jeremy Piven has a colorful supporting turn as one of Cappie’s outspoken teammates.

Green has a beautiful line that she delivers at Lucas’ most vulnerable moment: “Do you know how wonderful you are?” Everything about the scene is perfect. The best moments in “Lucas” shine brightly because they feel so honest.

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