Boy Erased

November 30, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe
Directed by: Joel Edgerton (“The Gift”)
Written by: Joel Edgerton (“The Gift”)

Australian actor-turned-director Joel Edgerton (“The Gift”) steps behind the camera for only the second time in his career with “Boy Erased,” a compassionate and, at times, upsetting account of a young man’s forced participation in a conversion-therapy program at the hands of his Baptist pastor father and devout mother. It’s a crucially important coming-of-age drama that will hopefully serve as a cautionary tale for those who believe that pseudoscientific treatment or spiritual intervention can actually “pray the gay away.”

Based on author Garrard Conley’s 2016 memoir of the same name, the film stars Academy Award-nominated actor Lucas Hedges (“Manchester by the Sea”) as Jared Eamons, a high-school teen from Arkansas who begins to question his sexuality. This is followed by a series of traumatic experiences — without the thoughtful and empathetic responses most would want from their family. When his conservative father Marshall (Russell Crowe) confronts Jared about a rumor, he denies it at first before admitting to having an attraction to men.

Turning to the counsel of “wiser” elders in his congregation, the consensus is that Jared should be sent to reparation therapy where he can be cured of his homosexuality, an idea he agrees to if only to placate his parents, including his mother Nancy (Nicole Kidman), who sits quietly to the side as her son is urged to renounce what the church believes is an immoral lifestyle.

Once in therapy and surrounded by young men and women also struggling with their sexuality, Jared starts to recognize that nothing justifies the cruelty he and the others are suffering through. While he doesn’t receive much pity from his dad, “Boy Erased” takes a turn toward a more inspiring narrative when his mom realizes the program is causing more harm than good. Kidman is brilliant as she transforms from an initially complicit woman who defers to her husband and the men of the church to someone who chooses to accept her son for who he is, despite the consequences that come with that decision.

Taking on double duty as director and supporting actor is Edgerton, who portrays Victor Sykes, the resolved leader of the therapy sessions. Like “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” another gay-conversion drama that debuted earlier this year starring Chloë Grace Moretz (“Let Me In”), “Boy Erased” doesn’t simplify its characters into heroes and villains. It wants audiences to understand the complexities of the relationships, even though, occasionally, it feels like Edgerton keeps the viewer at arm’s length on an emotional level.

Nevertheless, “Boy Erased” is critical viewing, especially for those bigots out there who still think a person’s sexual orientation is a choice. It’s all worth it if “Boy Erased” is able to affect a few minds.

Mid90s

November 6, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Sunny Suljic, Lucas Hedges, Katherine Waterson
Directed by: Jonah Hill (debut)
Written by: Jonah Hill (debut)

It looks like two-time Academy Award-nominated actor and first-time writer/director Jonah Hill (“Moneyball”) has picked up a few tricks during his 14-year career from some of the top-tier filmmakers he’s worked with, including Bennett Miller, Martin Scorsese and Joel and Ethan Coen. In his admirable directorial debut “Mid90s,” Hill proves he’s operating from a place of purity, compassion and meaningful emotion.

In a way, “Mid90s” is the spiritual successor to Larry Clark’s controversial 1995 indie film “Kids,” although not nearly as provocative (at least by today’s standards). Hill has crafted a lived-in world where his young characters — most of them teenage boys — feel like they are the kings of their own destiny. From the perspective of a child, it’s not as captivating or unique as films like “The Florida Project,” “Where the Wild Things Are” or “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” but Hill has tapped into a specific time and location worthy of thoughtful exploration.

Set in Los Angeles in the, well, mid-’90s, Hill introduces us to his crew led by actor Sunny Suljic (“The Killing of a Sacred Deer”) in what will undoubtedly be considered his breakout role in years to come. Suljic stars as Stevie, an undersized 13-year-old kid in search of his own identity and reputation.

Stevie’s home life is bearable, although he’d probably like it more if his aggressive older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges) would stop beating the hell out of him. Their single mother (Katherine Waterson) is loving, but gives them the freedom to do as they please. That independence leads Stevie to a local skate shop where he finds solace hanging around with the teens who frequent (or work at) the store.

The young men — aspiring skateboard pro Ray (Na-kel Smith), jealous Ruben (Gio Galicia), aspiring filmmaker “Fourth Grade” (Ryder McLaughlin) and scene-stealing slacker “Fuckshit” (Olan Prenatt) — take a liking to Stevie, who starts skateboarding with them. “Mid90s” is a plotless film, so we spend most of the time observing the guys as they skate, smoke weed, drink beer, insult each other and talk about what they want to do with their lives and why they like skating. It’s a shifting dynamic that is authentic and, occasionally, deeply moving.

As far as coming-of-age films go, “Mid90s” isn’t groundbreaking, but the impression that Hill is connected to the material in an intimate way is strong. He knows these kids’ lives and doesn’t settle for the easy route by diluting the narrative with nostalgia-heavy scenes or an overshadowing soundtrack. In “Mid90s,” Hill wants us to empathize with these boys. We’re all the better for him allowing us to do just that.

Manchester by the Sea

December 12, 2016 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams
Directed by: Kenneth Lonergan (“You Can Count On Me”)
Written by: Kenneth Lonergan (“Gangs of New York”)

Tragedy and grief are some of the universal occurrences that every human on the Earth experiences. It is where we, as people, often find ourselves at the lowest. It is also a test of strength. Many films this year will deal with how people, sometimes normal, sometimes in the spotlight, deal with that tragedy. “Jackie” for example, follows Jackie Kennedy in the hours and days following her husband’s assassination. But perhaps no film this year quite explores the wake of tragedy like “Manchester by the Sea,” a powerful ensemble character study of a devastated family.

After the death of his brother, Lee (Casey Affleck) must return to the Massachusetts fishing village that he left years ago to take care of his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Reluctantly, Lee tries to deal with his current situation while simultaneously dealing with past experiences with his now estranged ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams). Through these experiences, Lee and Patrick try to bond and make the best of an unenviable situation.

Leading the way of the ensemble is Affleck, who is primed to nab his first Oscar nomination since 2008 and is likely the frontrunner to win. It’s a subtle and subdued performance, but also one that has nuance and depth. There’s a certain pain in Affleck’s face that is visible in almost every scene. His character has lost the ability to interact and function on a normal level and Affleck displays this perfectly with vacant eyes that stare off into the distance. Not to be outdone, Affleck’s performance is matched by newcomer Hedges who employs a fantastic Boston accent, and is at times reminiscent of a young Matt Damon. Hedges’ character is a bit rascally, but the way he is able to maintain a level of sweetness as well as display some serious acting chops make for a really empathetic character.

Credit should be given to screenwriter/director Kenneth Lonergan for refusing to pull any punches. Make no mistake: “Manchester by the Sea” is not an easy watch. There are some devastating revelations throughout and many characters face impossible situations. It would be easy for the film to teeter towards melodrama, but it’s a testament to the strength of the screenplay that Lonergan is able to balance these heavier moments with levity and humor, mostly between Affleck and Hedges who continually butt heads.

The film slowly reveals its details, and despite the enormity of the situations, consistently feels grounded and extremely realistic. Perhaps it’s the working class look of the picturesque landscapes of Manchester, or even Affleck’s blue collar job as a handyman, but “Manchester by the Sea” feels authentic and true. Some may find it slow, but those parts are important to show the depths of Affleck’s despair, which is the most important narrative factor of the film.

As Oscar season heats up, “Manchester by the Sea” is undoubtedly a player. Acting nominations will be aplenty and Lonergan’s absorbing script is sure to get some notice. It’s a pretty basic story, with some pretty dramatic turns and although the plot may seem slight, the film is certainly anything but.