Mask (1985)

“Hey, kid — why don’t you take off your mask?”

Mask Poster

Synopsis:
A teenager (Eric Stoltz) with extreme facial disfigurement is raised by his loving but drug-abusing mother (Cher) and her gang of motorcyclist friends.

Genres:

Review:
Peter Bogdanovich made a short-lived directorial comeback with this affecting tale of a deeply disfigured yet preternaturally optimistic teenager (based on the real-life story of Rocky Dennis and his biker chick mom, Rusty). Stoltz — perhaps best known by film fanatics at the time for his role in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) — is marvelous if unrecognizable in the lead role; we can’t help feeling authentically inspired by this resilient kid’s ability to joke about his appearance and then quickly move on to demonstrate his wit, intelligence, and all-around likability. The script is primarily concerned with showing Rocky’s everyday life: he argues with his mom (a sad-eyed, feisty Cher) about her drug use; dreams of going on a motorcycle tour of Europe with his best friend (nicely played by Lawrence Monoson); bargains for tutoring money from his classmate; and, in the movie’s most touching scenes, falls in love with a beautiful blind girl (Laura Dern) he meets at summer camp. We watch him struggle with his appearance and his disability (which, he’s been told for years, means imminent death), but it’s remarkable how many of his daily concerns could easily be those of other teens in a slightly different context.

Unfortunately, Bogdanovich — working from a script by Anna Hamilton Phelan — pads his storyline with extraneous material regarding Cher’s romance with a stoic biker named Gar (Sam Elliott, wasted in an undeveloped role) and Rocky and Rusty’s participation in a close-knit motorcycle community. While it’s refreshing to see motorcyclists portrayed in such a positive light — I particularly like the scenes showing a biker named Dozer (Dennis Burkley) dropping Stoltz off at school like a protective mama bear — their presence ultimately eats up too much screentime. With that said, more scenes could easily have been prioritized for Stoltz’s touching romance with Dern, who does a fine job portraying a sweet girl deserving of Rocky’s affections. This one remains worth a one-time look for Stoltz’s performance, as well as the impressive, Oscar-winning make-up (which seems to emulate the real Rocky’s face quite accurately).

Note: Click here to read an archived People magazine article about the film’s real-life inspirations. Also, be sure to check out TCM’s article for more insights into Bogdanovich’s struggles during the making of this film, particularly regarding his fight to include songs by Bruce Springsteen; they’ve been restored in the recent Director’s Cut, though they don’t really come across as integral to the storyline.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Eric Stoltz as Rocky
    Mask Stolz
  • Excellent make-up
    Mask Makeup
  • The touching romance between Stoltz and Dern
    Mask Romance

Must See?
Yes, once, for Stoltz’s performance and as a sweet tale of a remarkably empowered young man. Listed as a Sleeper and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

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