Monday, December 10, 2018

Boy Erased

Starring: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Joel Edgerton, Russell Crowe
Director: Joel Edgerton
Running Time: 1 hour, 55 minutes

Rating: R

This film is a heartbreaking story, unveiling some pretty shocking material. Lucas Hedges stars as Jared in "Boy Erased", a film based on a memoir of the same name by Garrard Conley. In the movie, Jared is a young man coming to terms with his homosexuality in a very rural and conservative Arkansas, under the roof of his very straight-laced, fundamentalist parents. When confronted by them after a startling accusation, Jared agrees to attend a gay conversion therapy camp. He honestly seems like he wants to change for his parents and for society, to make his life a little easier down the road. After a grueling few days with camp director Victor Sykes (played scarily well by screenplay writer and director Joel Edgerton), Jared learns that this place is not helping anybody. In fact, it's doing just the opposite. At the end of the film, the audiences learns that 36 states still allow gay conversion therapy.

We learn about Jared and his homosexuality through flashbacks. He turns down his girlfriend's advances, he looks longingly at other men, and while he portrays a spirit of athleticism and masculinity, he is sensitive, thoughtful and introspective. He has a great relationship with his mom, played by Nicole Kidman (who is having the best years of her career) and a seemingly good relationship with his pastor father, played by Russell Crowe in a very convincing performance (a 180 from his turn as Javert in Les Mis, thankfully!) When Jared admits his truth, his parents react in the only way they know how: we must help him change.

Arriving at gay conversion therapy camp, for Jared, is like walking into a prison: young men and women are wearing uniforms, personal belongings are confiscated and staff are like security guards, monitoring your every move - including bathroom breaks. Several camp participants offer Jared advice like "play the part" and "fake it 'til you make it" - whether or not you believe you can change, do what it takes to survive and get out of there. It's up to camp director Victor Sykes as to when you can leave, and at one point, he tells Jared that staying another year at camp would be a better choice for him, as opposed to returning to college. Jared also witnesses Sykes physically and verbally abusing a young man who refuses to participate in a group exercise. Over time, Jared wises up to the truth about Sykes and this program, and chooses to leave, regardless of what that means for his relationship with his family.

This film handles such delicate subject matter very well. All lead actors were believable and while Hedges is indeed the star, his supporting cast of camp mates deliver empathetic performances. This film made me angry, but also more informed. Don't see it unless you're prepared to stomach some disturbing ideas about our society.

Bohemian Rhapsody

Starring: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Aidan Gillen, Allen Leech
Director: Bryan Singer

Running Time: 2 hours, 14 minutes
Rating: PG-13

I have been singing Queen songs nonstop since I saw "Bohemian Rhapsody". Did I have some issues with this film? Yes. But was I also thoroughly entertained? Indeed. The film does a really great job at reminding you of how charismatic a performer Freddie Mercury was, the enormous number of hits Queen had, and how the AIDS epidemic shook our society upon its discovery. The film does a not-so-great job of portraying their rise to fame in a realistic way, and it doesn't shine much light on Mercury's relationships with band manager Paul Prenter (played by Allen Leech, NOT his doppleganger Kevin Connolly) and longtime partner Jim Hutton. Rami Malek though, is a tour de force as Mercury, and while it wasn't perfect, it was very enjoyable.

The film opens as Mercury takes the stage for Queen's well-known Live Aid Concert performance - a stunning visual that we see more of later in the film. But we're quickly transported back to the early 1970s, where Mercury works as a humble baggage claim attendant at the airport. Much to his parents' chagrin, he goes out to the clubs - late and often - and finally approaches a band about joining them. They laugh at his appearance - dark skin, buck teeth and all - until they realize the dude has got some pipes.

What most bands experience - a slow rise to the top, difficulty finding representation, struggle releasing a hit single - Queen seems to find with ease. It's not long before performing in bars becomes a record deal, and famed manager John Reid takes them under his wing (I would have liked more screen time with this character - or maybe I'm just partial to Aidan Gillen from "The Wire" and "Peaky Blinders" fame). Shortly afterwards, hits like "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "Killer Queen" start pouring out of the band and rising to the top of the charts. It's almost crazy, how fast the hits came to Mercury. He really was a musical genius. Malek does a fabulous job of capturing the essence and flamboyance of the performer - it's difficult to take your eyes off him. The fake teeth were a bit of a distraction and a little overkill, but it was fun to recognize the infamous looks throughout the years - from the shadowy "Bohemian Rhapsody" photo showcasing the 4 bandmates, to Mercury's plunging neckline jumpsuits, all the way to his mustache and tight white tanks.

We're given a peek into Mercury's personal life, dealing mostly with Mary Austin (played by Lucy Boynton), but I think they could have delved more into his relationship struggles. He was clearly very much in love with Mary, but he was also clearly gay. This is complicated, and they just kind of skimmed the surface without really digging in. It also would have been interesting to see Mercury in his final years after the Live Aid concert, while grappling with AIDS. I suppose those conflicts are for another movie. This one is more light-hearted and about Mercury, the entertainer, not Mercury, the man.