In the “Class of …” series, Nick Rogers takes a monthly look back at films celebrating either their 20th or 30th anniversary of initial release this year — six from 1986 and seven from 1996 (the extra in December’s double-feature column). The rules: No Oscar nominees and no films among either year’s top-10 grossers.

Looking at promotional material for Beautiful Girls makes it seem like little more than a mediocre mid-’90s meathead meditation on the male ego.

There’s the hideously, and hilariously, Photoshopped poster, in which the women feel like floating specters haunting the men buddying up at a bar; I suppose Uma Thurman is meant to be looking at Timothy Hutton, but it seems like she’s laughing at an unseen drink pourer. Then, the similarly laughable cover of a recent DVD re-release, on which it seems Thurman, Mira Sorvino, Natalie Portman, Lauren Holly and Rosie O’Donnell are competing for the affections of a sheepish Matt Dillon.

To be fair, much of Beautiful Girls concerns the fighting, follies and funny business among a half-dozen buddies reunited for a high school reunion in the fictitious Knights Ridge, Pennsylvania. In this hamlet, the bills are as steep as the hills and the frost seems like it thaws for maybe a month out of the year, if ever. (It’s a bit of brrrr-cold brilliance in location scouting, with Minnesota standing in ably.)

The women who bear witness to their quarter-life crises are wise sages of varying ages, conniving schemers, worried girlfriends, frustrated exes or stalwart spouses. That they’re the smartest ones in the room is no surprise. But they are neither simply male saviors nor the men merely lovable lugs.

Beautiful Girls feels like screenwriter Scott Rosenberg’s reading of Corinthians if he were chugging a Coors between every sentence — examining how at least a few of its characters understand that it’s time to put away childish things … if only for the winter. And it’s an unassailably authentic look at how adulthood erodes many adolescent friendships, especially those forged in a small town. When people don’t connect outside of common ground where they grew up, such relationships can stall out. For those who move away, revisiting may feel akin to temporarily marooned time travel. For those who stay behind, equivocation and envy may set in.

When I first saw Beautiful Girls, I was on the verge of graduating high school and wondering what awaited my circle of friends and me as we either scattered to the wind or remained in my northwest Illinois town of 1,400. I hoped we could always pick it up like Willie, Tommy, Mo, Kev, Paul and Stinky do in the movie — exuberant, wide-eyed shouts upon seeing each other before clinking cold ones. Ten years later, their byplay crackled with the warm familiarity of a fine hangout comedy.

To watch Beautiful Girls now is to be thankful that my friendships with those I’m still close to from high school haven’t fallen prey to superficial enthusiasm and drive-thru conversations whenever I happen to be home. Although not with all of those friends, my bond with most has advanced beyond the boundaries of our hometown, even as some have stayed there. In the eyes of a guy pushing 40, it feels like the characters’ laughter is more forced, their backslapping less sincere, their ball-busting less playful, their minds searching for conversational exit strategy. It’s small-town tribalism in the absence of actual feelings — both a bittersweet revelation and a testament to the film’s enduring, evolving appeal.

Regardless of the interpretation, Beautiful Girls is a film in which types are given twitches, tics and touches by thoughtful actors — even Michael Rapaport, whose puerile-punk presence is almost always the kiss of death. (Not even the great TV series Justified could escape his curse in what is largely considered its weakest season.)

It’s a semi-autobiographical work for Rosenberg, who was living in Needham, Massachusetts, when he wrote it. With some Tales from the Crypt TV scripts to his credit, as well as 1995’s crime thriller Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead, Rosenberg was waiting to see if Touchstone Pictures would buy his script for Con Air. (They did, and it became one of the all-time great “in-on-the-joke” action films.)

In the words of the writer himself: “It was the worst winter ever in this small hometown. Snow plows were coming by, and I was just tired of writing these movies with people getting shot and killed. So I said, ‘There is more action going on in my hometown with my friends dealing with the fact that they cannot deal with turning 30 or with commitment. All that became Beautiful Girls.”

Perhaps not unreasonably, Rosenberg’s friends weren’t thrilled with his interpretation of them. Loosely based on Beautiful Girls backlash, Rosenberg’s October Road, a short-lived 2007 ABC drama that he also set in Knights Ridge, concerned a hit writer facing the music when forced to return home.

Beautiful Girls was also the second straight understated, and underrated, work from director Ted Demme, nephew of Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme. Ted started his career as a production assistant at MTV before co-creating Yo! MTV Raps in 1988, shooting the network’s memorable interstitials with a ranting Denis Leary and directing Who’s the Man? (co-starring Raps co-hosts Doctor Dré and Ed Lover). Ted then made an impressive leap, along with Leary, into caustic comedy with The Ref — a wonderfully wry and criminally mistreated Christmas movie co-starring Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis that was dumped in March 1994.

Ted shared with his uncle a facility for capturing the rambling, rumbling rhythms of conversation — even if they were mostly absent from his later high-profile works like Life (a prison comedy with Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence) and Blow, a drug-dealer biopic starring Johnny Depp. However, Ted Demme’s life and career were cut short when he collapsed during a basketball game and died several hours later — a trace amount of cocaine in his system perhaps causing a heart attack.

Did Ted Demme gain cred based on his last name and his uncle’s own award-worthy cache in the same mid-’90s timeframe? Perhaps. The cast of Beautiful Girls in particular is so stacked the names practically cascade across the opening credits. But he doesn’t coast in either this or The Ref, and clearly capitalized on the chances he was given no matter how few they were.

The film opens in New York on jazz pianist Willie (Hutton), counting his tips after a night tickling the ivories and boarding a bus back to Knights Ridge. Right away, there’s a moment less mighty actors than Hutton might have missed: Willie’s furtive shifts in his seat, and glances backward, suggest he would only head back if he made enough that night in tips … and that he’s regretting it before he’s left the boroughs.

Willie is weighing whether to go all in for “the big fade” with Tracy (Annabeth Gish), a lovely lawyer with whom he’s been cohabitating for several months now. He hopes that going home several days before the reunion to poll his friends will give him the perspective he needs to decide. But he’s soon forced to mediate the insistent drama from which he’s purposefully isolated himself.

“How you doin’?,” Willie asks Paul (Rapaport). “Jan’s bangin’ some meat cutter!,” Paul churlishly retorts, dominating the discussion by obsessing over his ex (Martha Plimpton) taking up with a butcher (hypocritically, he adds, as Jan is a vegetarian). Paul’s is a grudge gone nuclear simply because the socially claustrophobic Knights Ridge denies it space to expend its energy, and Rapaport lets this self-loathing, self-absorbed bullshit braggadocio propel the best performance he’s ever given.

Even in what seems like a pure comic-relief scene — Paul’s woefully unromantic, ill-timed proposal to Jan — you sense a man who will get down on his knees for no one, least of all a woman rebuffing him. Rosenberg, Demme and Rapaport reveal Paul as a man concerned more with comfort, and how frightening it would be to lose that, than putting in the hard work of creating and sustaining a relationship.

Although unable to separate himself from a philosophy that women are “all sisters” out to get men, Paul’s story concludes with a gracious character bit: He’s OK being alone with his abrasiveness … even if it takes weeping along to “Beth” to see it. And that’s just one side story to subtract from any of Willie’s “pals” helping him make a decision.

Paul co-owns a snow removal business with Tommy “Birdman” Rowland (the eternally youthful Dillon). Tommy has a loving girlfriend in Sharon (Sorvino), but remains vexed by Darien (Holly), his high school sweetheart who is now married with kids but continues to meet Tommy’s wandering eye … and then some. Sharon responds with anorexia, and when we first meet her, Sorvino’s shoulders seem straw-sized and her curves chiseled down to bones. Plus, her strategy to sate Tommy — with a surprise party — goes south with pitiable sadness. This is perhaps the most perfunctory, and predictably resolved, plot, but Dillon nicely plays Tommy’s unnerving realization that his life has failed at even his modest ambitions.

Family man Mo (Noah Emmerich) seems the most stable with his wife, Sarah (Anne Bobby). But upon hearing Willie is considering an office supply-sales job, Mo seems dismayed he’ll no longer get to enjoy vicarious wanderlust. And all that awaits Willie at his childhood home are weary, wary glances and terse conversation between his shell-shocked dad (Richard Bright) and dopey younger brother (David Arquette).

Gina (O’Donnell) serves as a sort of Greek chorus to the town’s misery. She’s meant to be a distaff Denis Leary, and her profane, stream-of-consciousness rants about men’s rotted views of women counter the idiocy Paul spews forth about female form and function. It’s more or less a showy, sassy cameo, but O’Donnell swoops in and out with crack timing. More interesting: How Rosenberg flips a script on a bit in which Willie and Tommy objectify Gina, their comments crass but strangely sincere.

Quick jumps away from scenes between Willie and the crew suggest a longer cut interrupted to come in at under two hours. But you start to realize that you know how these scenes resolve themselves — with swigs, shrugs and sendoffs into the night before resuming the next day, a continuation of the casual.

The only people with whom Willie engages in any sort of productive conversation are a respective outsider and outlier. Andera (Thurman) struts into Knights Ridge like a statuesque Greek goddess. She’s there to visit her cousin “Stinky” (Pruitt Taylor Vince), who runs the bar where Willie, Paul, and company hang out. They try to peacock in front of her, not realizing their beer-and-brisket blue-collar aesthetic is exactly what this Chicago advertising exec wants to wallow in for a week.

She seems to simultaneously relish and resist the role of helping Willie (and, to a less successful extent, Paul) sort out problems. “You’ll see me again,” she tells Willie after a heart-to-heart; it’s not in a literal sense but in how she suspects he will eventually look at Tracy — with unswerving adoration.

Then there’s Marty (Portman), a loquacious 13-year-old who lives in the house next to Willie’s. Marty feels like Portman’s “Garden State” role with a learner’s permit, and her insistence she’s an old soul seems obnoxiously obvious until you recognize it’s her defense mechanism against the perils of junior-high heartache. She senses in Willie a kindred spirit who grew up and got away, and Willie senses in her … a female who is totally on his wavelength, which Tracy may not be. Maybe he could wait for Marty, right? Uh, right?

This wasn’t Portman’s first flirtatious-little-girl role, but it teeters toward creepiness a bit more closely than Léon only because it lacks that film’s complexities and pathos. And there is the matter of Willie’s harebrained drunken reverie about getting together with Marty when she’s 23 and he’s 39. (Side note: This would appear to be a 12-year class reunion, which seems … unlikely.)

But Rosenberg and Demme couch even Willie and Marty’s tetchy connection in the romanticized, idealized and utterly unrealistic ways in which nearly everyone in Knights Ridge sees each other. They yank it back from the edge as Willie offers an unexpectedly strong guiding hand in Marty’s moments of gangly awkwardness.

Beautiful Girls meanders a bit in its conclusion, which hinges on a halfhearted attempt at revenge over a (perhaps rightful) beating Tommy takes on the night of the reunion. But it is the method through which Willie realizes both the uselessness of posturing and puffed chests … and of putting any stock in any advice these guys may give. And the final scene now plays like a frosty-aired final farewell, when perpetual third wheel Kev (Max Perlich) tells Willie to “stay cool forever.”

Does Beautiful Girls philosophically aspire to much more than mirroring a Counting Crows lyric from “Mr. Jones?” Maybe not. But there’s a barroom eloquence, bottle-bottomed anxiety and stumblebum sadness to it that lingers in its bones.