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Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Peter Bogdanovich|
|Produced by||Martin Starger|
|Written by||Anna Hamilton Phelan|
|Music by||Dennis Ricotta|
|Edited by||Barbara Ford|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Box office||$48.2 million|
Mask is a 1985 American biographical drama film directed by Peter Bogdanovich, starring Cher, Sam Elliott, and Eric Stoltz with supporting roles played by Dennis Burkley, Laura Dern, Estelle Getty, and Richard Dysart. Cher received the 1985 Cannes Film Festival award for Best Actress. The film is based on the life and early death of Roy L. "Rocky" Dennis, a boy who had craniodiaphyseal dysplasia, an extremely rare disorder known commonly as lionitis due to the disfiguring cranial enlargements that it causes. Mask won the Academy Award for Best Makeup while Cher and Stoltz received Golden Globe Award nominations for their performances.
In Azusa, California in 1978, Rocky Dennis (Eric Stoltz), who has craniodiaphyseal dysplasia, is accepted without question by his freewheeling biker mother's boyfriends, particularly Gar (Sam Elliott), his "extended motorcycle family", and his maternal grandparents (Richard Dysart and Estelle Getty) who share his love of baseball card collecting; but is treated with fear, pity, awkwardness, and teasing by those unaware of his humanity, humor, and intelligence. Rocky's mother, Florence "Rusty" Dennis (Cher), is determined to give Rocky as normal a life as possible, in spite of her own wild ways as a member of the Turks biker gang, as well as her strained relationship with her parents. She fights for Rocky's inclusion in a mainstream junior high school and confronts a principal who would rather relegate him to a special education school, despite the fact that his condition hasn't affected his intelligence. They then go to the doctor for Rocky's semi-annual physical, where Rocky claims to be feeling well, despite continuing headaches, that his mother can sing away. A young doctor tells Rusty that Rocky will probably not live for more than six months which Rusty scoffs at, as the doctors had been making predictions in the past that Rocky would be blind, deaf etc., none of which came to be.
Rocky goes on to thrive at school. He wins friends by assisting a fellow student with remembering his locker combination. Using humor when faced with an awkward silence during roll call, Rocky just repeats the prior new student's line, "Wow, thanks a lot." The class turns to smile and laugh with Rocky. He entertains his history class by giving a rendition of the story of the Trojan Horse and it being the turning point of the Trojan War. Gradually overcoming discrimination and tutoring his classmates for $3 per hour, Rocky is asked by the principal to accept a job as a counselor's aide at Camp Bloomfield, a summer camp for blind children. At his graduation from junior high, Rocky takes home academic achievement prizes in mathematics, history, and science.
Rocky feels the need to leave his chronically depressed and drug-addicted mother, and helps her break her drug habit. At camp, Rocky falls in love with Diana Adams (Laura Dern), a blind girl who cannot see (but feels) his deformed skull and is entranced by Rocky's kindness and compassion. Rocky uses his intelligence to explain to Diana words like "billowy", "clouds", "red", and "green" by using cotton balls as a touchable vision of "billowy clouds", a warm rock to explain "red" and "pink", and a frozen rock to explain "icy blue." Diana introduces Rocky to her parents, who are put-off by Rocky's appearance, and do not want Diana to spend time with him.
Near the end of the film, Rocky faces the pain of separation from the two people to which he feels closest. His dream of a motorbike trip through Europe collapses when his best friend Ben (Lawrence Monoson), who was to come with him, tells him that he is moving back to Michigan for good. This drives Rocky into berating Ben and calling him "stupid", then finally revealing to Ben that he conned him out of a Rube Walker card. However, Rocky feels better after taking a bus trip by himself to visit Diana at the equestrian stables, located near Griffith Park. Diana tells Rocky that her parents prevented her from receiving his phone messages. But then, she reveals that she is going away to a private school for the blind, and cannot be with him. To add to this, a member of his biker family, Red, passes away (presumably from cancer). Also, he attends high school, where none of his friends are, and where he used to respond to taunts with wit and humor, he responds to a boy by pushing him against a locker and calling him a son-of-a-bitch.
One evening when Rocky's "biker family" is visiting, Rocky is fighting a fierce headache and quietly withdraws to his room, removes the tacks from his map of Europe, and goes to bed. The next morning, Rusty tries to wake up Rocky for school and flies into a fit of grief-stricken rage when she realizes he has died. After destroying the kitchen, Rusty mourns the death of Rocky and says "Now you can go anywhere you want, baby." She then re-pins his map of Europe.
The movie ends with Rocky's mother Rusty, her boyfriend/biker Gar, and biker Dozer, visiting his grave, leaving flowers and some 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers baseball cards by his headstone and a voice-over by Rocky himself, who recites the poem he wrote for English class earlier in the film.
Bogdanovich had originally intended to use several Bruce Springsteen (the real Rocky Dennis' favorite singer) songs on the film's soundtrack, but due to an impasse between Universal and Springsteen's label, Columbia Records, the songs were pulled from the film and replaced with songs by Bob Seger for the original theatrical release, prompting a $19 million lawsuit by Bogdanovich against the studio. The Springsteen songs were eventually restored for the 2004 director's cut DVD of the film.
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Reviews were highly positive: Roger Ebert wrote of the film, "A wonderful movie, a story of high spirits and hope and courage." A contrasting review in The New York Times read in part, "Mask is one of those movies that try so hard to get their supposedly universal message across (don't we all hide behind a mask of one sort or another?) that they are likely to put your teeth on edge more often than they bring one little, lonely teardrop to the eye."
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
The film was a box office success, garnering $48,230,162 in total.