Sunday, May 15, 2016

Superman Isn’t Brave

The summer between tenth and eleventh grade, I came upon Angus, a teen movie starring Charlie Talbert, James Van Der Beek, Ariana Richards, and Chris Owen, with Kathy Bates and Geroge C. Scott in supporting roles. I’d been conscious of the movie when it hit theaters four years earlier, mostly because of its soundtrack that featured Green Day’s “J.A.R.,” which got some radio play at the time.

But when I encountered the movie, it was free on TBS. At the time, I was hooked on some terrific teen TV dramas like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Felicity, as well as some pretty bad shows of a superficially similar ilk, such as Dawson’s Creek. Were it not for Van Der Beek starring as both Dawson on his titular show and Rick Sanford the quarterback bully on Angus, I don’t know that I would have tuned in that day.

But I did, and I watched straight through.

And in typical TBS fashion of that era, they reshowed the movie during the daytime hours, once or twice a day for the week to follow. So, the next day I insisted we watch it at my best friend’s house. The day after that I plugged a blank VHS tape in the VCR and recorded it as it was happening.

So what got me hooked on Angus? Hooked to the point that, to this day, I’ll still call it my favorite movie. It has little to do with the quality of the film itself. There are plenty of moments of poor acting and questionable direction, besides which the overarching narrative is largely cliché and its resolution is pretty saccharine.

This is an example of the right piece of art (or pop culture, if you’re more comfortable with that term for a movie like this) reveals itself at precisely the right time in a person’s life. I don’t know that I’d love professional wrestling had I not grown up in a period when Hulk Hogan made it so inviting for the masses to love the form. I don’t know if I would call Counting Crows my favorite band if I hadn’t first encountered them in middle school, on the cusp of truly discovering music as something that I could have my own, meaningful opinions about. Maybe I wouldn’t favor Chinese food were it not for my father and grandmother’s cooking, or Italian food if I hadn’t grown up in Utica, New York, where there are so much of the stuff, and so much of it is good, too.

Angus got me--nerdy and slight and not very good at sports, when I was prone to profound and melodramatic infatuations on the girls around me. And while so much of the film is objectively unoriginal and uninteresting, the teenage cast--ironically, all but James Van Der Beek--looked like kids I would feasibly know in my own school; the music was the kind of music I would listen to (confirmed when I bought the soundtrack and listened ad nauseam). And then there’s the ending. (Note: spoilers follow.)

Angus’s grandfather gives him an impassioned pep talk, with the signature line, “Superman isn’t brave.” He goes on to explain that Superman is impervious to pain or destruction, so it’s easy to engage in heroic deeds because he knows he won’t come out the worse for it. The grandfather cites Angus as a counterexample--because he is completely vulnerable, and thus actually does need courage if he’s to get anything he wants out of life.

So Angus goes to the dance. He slow dances with his crush, pushes the bully to the ground, delivers an impassioned speech of his own about embracing weirdness and diversity, and ultimately walks the pretty girl home at the end of the night.

I won’t argue that this resolution is believable, sharp, or particularly unpredictable. But again, it comes back to seeing the right movie at the right time in my life--when I’d might as well have been Angus getting that pep talk.

I don’t know that I’m particularly brave, or that I’ve ever done anything particularly heroic. But I do think that, for all of my tendency to criticize and my sarcasm, at the end of the day, I am an optimist. A believer that life is by-and-large good, and that things in this life have a tendency to work out, not necessarily by any grand design, but because of making the most out of opportunities and the life you have available to you.

And this is the point--the critical point--at which it’s debatable whether Angus influenced me, or the film and I found each other at the right moment to complement each other’s philosophies. But what I may appreciate most about Angus is its unapologetic optimism. Unbridled happy endings usually don’t make for great films or great literature, but in the context of a pop movie, made for a mass audience, I find something very sweet, very appealing about it. A movie with moments that take me back in time. A movie that, after all these years, helps me continue to believe.

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