Despite balancing on a hair's breadth between productivity and disaster during its final part when the filmmakers are almost lead into the conventional teen-hero temptation embodied by films such as The Karate Kid and Youngblood – films that have altogether different values than what is targeted here, Lucas actually stays on the right side of the authenticity boundary and concludes with a well-earned and moving feel-good ending. An ending that fits in with the film's portrayal of real and multilayered youngsters – from their carefree joys to their absorbing tries and tribulations.
The writer/director is first-timer David Seltzer who obviously has deep understanding of the mechanisms of high school life as well as what it implies to be a youngster – whether you are the brainiac, the new kid, or the jock. What is different about Seltzer's film is that he wants to point out that neither of these high school archetypes are one-sided, but rather sensitive human beings who are often being placed in a role they feel compelled to fulfill. This means that in Lucas, the jocks aren't necessarily insensitive or stupid and the brainiacs aren't necessarily wimps. In addition to being concerned with how daunting teenage problems may feel, such as the first unanswered crush or the intense humiliation of being bullied by a large crowd, Seltzer wants to convey that despite these hardships, our teenage years are filled with magic and a feeling of being able to do anything – feelings we might never be able to equal later in life. This is exactly what makes to final part of Lucas work after all, and this is also what makes this such an uplifting and thoroughly inspiring experience.
The performances in Lucas, I feel, are largely Seltzer's merit. He obviously has been able to get his ideas and values through to the players, and he has evoked deeply sensitive performances from his young leads Haim and Green. None of them went on to have as illustrious careers as this film suggested, but that doesn't take anything away from their work here. Haim was, and might well still be, a great acting talent. Unfortunately, he largely wasted it on bad B-movies and a reckless lifestyle.
The latter is also something that can be said of Charlie Sheen. Today, however, Sheen enjoys a second coming as a successful television actor, but back in the mid-1980s, he was considered a far greater talent than his output in the following 15 years testamented. Lucas might just be his best work ever. He gives a subtle performance in a difficult role where balance and temperance are key factors.
In structure, Lucas is reminiscent of so many effective and ineffective teen movies from the past 25 years, but in essence and heart it is a little different. Seltzer never succumbs to cheap comedy at the sacrifice of his characters, but rather follows their paths and strives to understand their way of thinking and their vulnerabilities. In this respect, Lucas owes more to the humanistic tradition of Francois Truffaut than it does to standard American teen movies, and this also gives the film a timeless quality that makes it equally relevant and touching today as it was back in 1986.