Eric Stoltz plays Rocky Dennis, a 15-year-old West Coast youth with a rare bone disease that has enlarged and disfigured his head. Despite the prognosis of an early death, this stout-hearted teenager dreams of finding a girl who will love him and taking a motorcycle trip through Europe.
Rocky's mother Rusty (Cher) gives her son the affirmation and love he needs to survive in the cruel world of his peers who judge everyone according to personal appearance. In addition, Rusty's friends a band of beer-drinking motorcyclists provide Rocky with an extended family who treat him like the apple of their collective eyes.
As the film proceeds, it is fascinating to see the protagonists' soul blossom as he triumphs over the barriers set up around him. At school, Rocky wins academic awards, and at home, he helps Rusty discover the will-power to kick her drug habit.
Although director Peter Bogdanovich has made Mask a bit more sugar-coated and melodramatic than necessary, he has drawn exceptionally good performances out of Stoltz, Cher and Sam Elliott as Rusty's lover and Rocky's mentor.
Three scenes are especially effective: Rocky presenting his souped-up version of the story of Helen of Troy in front of his history class; his experience at summer camp when he falls in love with Diana (Laura Dern), a blind girl, and helps her understand colors; and his sharing with Rusty of a poem expressing his vision of life. These moments and others make up for some of the manipulativeness of the screenplay. In the end, Mask succeeds as an uplifting portrait of one disabled person and his beautiful spirit.