This year as every year, so many September-to-December theatrical releases will be vying for Academy Awards. Plenty are celebrity biopics. In 2018, you have Hugh Jackman playing Gary Hart, Felicity Jones as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong, Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury, Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly as Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. And so on... Yet not all biopics focus on the famous. Many are based on otherwise average folk who nonetheless are dealing with very real issues. The problems faced are recognizable, and plenty of moviegoers surely will be nodding their heads and connecting to what is unfolding onscreen.
Take for example two new films with similar titles. Both deal with confused teen boys and the manner in which their issues are dealt with by their parents. Both also feature award-worthy casts. The first is BOY ERASED, and it focuses on two straight-arrow parents, played by Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe. Lucas Hedges plays their offspring, and the story explores the manner in which dad and mom respond to his emerging homosexuality. Can a young person’s sexual preference be accepted within the family structure? Must the teen somehow be “cured” by gay conversion therapy? How does religion come into play here, and who truly benefits by gay conversion therapy?
Then there is BEAUTIFUL BOY. The central characters are a father and son, played by Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet. The dad is a devoted, caring parent, and has done everything he can to raise his boy. But the youngster is a product of his time. He is attracted to the “craziness” of the era, and so he has become hopelessly addicted to crystal meth. His father agonizes over his son’s plight. Is it somehow his fault that the boy is a druggie?
These days, quite a few American films offer portraits of an American culture that is collectively uncaring, even among those who toil at certain jobs. BEAUTIFUL BOY, for one, depicts hospital workers, psychologists, and other professionals who are supposed to be caregivers and who demand big bucks for their services. But there is no genuine involvement with their charges.
Now sure, the boys in BOY ERASED and BEAUTIFUL BOY are no Andy Hardys. Their main concerns are not who they will be taking to the prom this coming Saturday. And this connects to the content of one-too-many TV commercials. If you watch them, the message you often will come away with is: If you want a happy child who will mature into an upstanding citizen, you must use this or that product. It’s that simple. But what if your kid is escaping into a world of drug abuse or coming to terms with a sexual attraction that is in no way mainstream? This is real life 2018-style and, these days, there is more to real life than the plights and fates of astronauts, Supreme Court justices, politicians, movie stars, or rock stars.
Rob Edelman teaches film history courses at the University at Albany. He has contributed to many arts and baseball-related publications; his latest book, which he co-edited, is From Spring Training To Screen Test: Baseball Players Turned Actors. His frequent collaborator is his wife, fellow WAMC film commentator Audrey Kupferberg.
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