Monday, August 5, 2019

Joel Edgerton's BOY ERASED

Of the full-length feature film adaptations that exist of THE GREAT GATSBY, my favorite Gatsby is Alan Ladd in the 1949 version from Paramount Pictures. Ladd emitted the vibe that Jay Gatsby indeed could've been a ruthless hood who transformed himself into a mysterious millionaire living the good life on Long Island. The performer in the 2013 version directed by Baz Luhrmann was not Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby but Joel Edgerton the rich, bigoted brute Nick Carraway. If I'd been reviewing films on TV at that time, I would've said that Joel Edgerton in THE GREAT GATSBY delivered a performance worthy of an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Ever since I saw the 2013 remake of THE GREAT GATSBY, I have been a Joel Edgerton fan. I was lucky to interview him in New York City when he was promoting MIDNIGHT SPECIAL. That's a 2016 thriller, a modestly budgeted indie drama, that seemed to get overlooked in the movie marketplace. I loved it. I loved the spiritual depth of the film and the solid performances. Michael Shannon and his little boy are on the run. The sweet little kid has special supernatural powers. He's pursued by the government and by a religious cult. Shannon and Joel Edgerton play relatives determined to keep the boy safe. Also starring as Kirsten Dunst and Adam Driver. I did interviews of Edgerton and Shannon -- two actors who are smart, witty, down-to-earth, extremely interesting and extremely talented. Jeff Nichols wrote and directed MIDNIGHT SPECIAL. Jeff Nichols directed the next film Joel Edgerton did. That film got an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. The 2016 drama, LOVING, is the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving.  They were arrested for getting married. Why? Because she was black and he was white. Interracial marriage was still illegal in several American states in the 1960s when they took their case to the Supreme Court. The historic 1967 ruling in their favor made interracial marriage legal all across the U.S.

I wish I could have interview Joel Edgerton about LOVING. I grew up hearing at that couple. They were heroes to my mother. Mom showed me their photos in magazines.
Actress Ruth Negga played Mildred Loving. Joel, as Richard Loving, was once again excellent.
This year in June, during Pride Month festivities, I smiled to see many thanks to our straight allies who support civil rights for LGBTQ citizens. Many of these allies were in the entertainment and sports fields. Another great straight ally we have is actor/director Joel Edgerton.  Not only is he a great straight ally, he's a darn good film director and I hope he'll direct more films. BOY ERASED is a 2018 drama based on a memoir of the same name. I saw the movie recently on HBO. Wow. What a strong film. It's the second feature length film Edgerton has directed.

BOY ERASED is about an Arkansas youth in his late teens whose parents talk him into entering a gay conversion therapy program. His father is a Baptist preacher. Dad is the kind of man who believes one can "pray the gay away." Dad prays constantly. He runs a car dealership. The employees begin each workday with a short prayer circle before they sell cars.

Male and females enter a building that looks like a typical office space. They are wear white spirits, pants and sit through lectures about how same sex attraction puts one in the express line to Hell. Lucas Hedges plays Jared, the young man trying to keep himself in the closet. The thought of this kind of program, a program we've heard about in news reports, seems a bit laughable until Jared has to check-in for his conversion stay. In that scene, you get your first jolt. It's like he's behind the Iron Curtain -- like a scene you'd associate with the 2006 foreign film, THE LIVES OF OTHERS. That film took us back to East Berlin in 1984.

Jared can't keep a personal journal. It has to be read by a conversion staff member. He has to subject to "Moral Inventory." He's asked to give a blood sample so his testosterone levels can be checked.  Flea, the bass player for Red Hot Chili Peppers, has a supporting role as a martinet of a conversion therapy instructor.  He's a leader in "Masculinity Training." Males are taught to stand arms akimbo because "triangles are the strongest shapes." One who fails a lesson is spanked with a Bible.

Joel Edgerton plays a conversion instructor, a real-life character who heaped on the verbal shame and guilt.  In addition to directing, Edgerton also wrote the screenplay. As Jared's parents, we see Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe. Edgerton is an Australian. So is Kidman. Crowe hails from New Zealand. Nicole Kidman and Russell, both Oscars winners, received nominations from the Australian Film Critics Association for BOY ERASED. So did New Yorker Lucas Hedges.

Joel Edgerton's direction and screenplay are compact and compassionate. He doesn't present someone as a villain. He shows what's flawed and human in the misguided father, the passive mother and the closeted son. We care about all three. It's obvious that actor/director/screenwriter Joel Edgerton cares about the LGBTQ community.

The conversion program turns out be the terrifying. There's emotional abuse and a sexual assault. Another terrifying element as that parents and therapy instructors believed being gay was a choice -- like learning how to play a sport.

If you get HBO, check your listings for other airings of BOY ERASED. Definitely sit through the start of the closing credits to read what became of real-life characters portrayed in the film.


















  

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