This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
When we see him for the first time, it's a glimpse through his bedroom window, half-reflected in a mirror. A second later, we see him more clearly, this teenage boy with the strange face. We are shocked for a second, until he starts to talk, and then, without effort, we accept him as a normal kid who has had an abnormal thing happen to him. The name of his disease is craniodiaphyseal dyaplasia, and it causes calcium deposits on his skull that force his face out of shape. "What's the matter?" he likes to ask. "You never seen anyone from the planet Vulcan before?"
The kid's name is Rocky Dennis, and his mother is named Rusty. She is not your normal mom, either. She rides with a motorcycle gang, abuses drugs, shacks up with gang members, and has no visible means of employment. But within about, 10 minutes, we know that she is the ideal mom for Rocky. That's the scene where the school principal suggests that Rocky would be better off in a "special" school, and she tells the principal he is a jerk, her son is a good student with good grades, and here is the name of her lawyer.
Movies don't often grab us as quickly as "Mask" does. The story of Rocky and Rusty is absorbing from the very first, maybe because the movie doesn't waste a lot of time wringing its hands over Rocky's fate, "Mask" lands on its feet, running. The director, Peter Bogdanovich, moves directly to the center of Rocky's life - mother, his baseball cards, his cocky bravado, his growing awareness of girls. Bogdanovich handles "Mask" a lot differently than a made-for-TV movie would have, with TVs disease of the week approach. This isn't the story of a disease, but the story of some people.
And the most extraordinary person in the movie, surprisingly, is not Rocky, but his mother. Rusty Dennis is played by Cher as a complicated, angry, high-energy woman with a great capacity to love her son and encourage him to live as fully as he can. Rocky is a great kid, but because he succeeds so well at being a teenager, he is not a special case like, say, the Elephant Man. He is a kid with a handicap. It is a tribute to Eric Stoltz, who plays the role beneath the completely convincing makeup of Michael Westmore, that we accept him on his own terms.