BOY ERASED: I have to think that a “closeted” gay nineteen-year-old guy (Lucas Hedges) living in the buckle of Bible Belt Arkansas with a Southern Baptist lay preacher (Russell Crowe) for a father has got to be the worst place in America to be “outed”… except for maybe Waco. When it happens, Hedges (MANCHESTER BY THE SEA) is put into a conversion therapy program that’s a much darker, more serious version of the “South Park” episode where Butters is sent to a similar “camp” for being “bicurious”. The antiseptic, prison-like facility is run by an ugly tie-wearing “counselor” (Joel Edgerton) who’s part drill instructor, part verbal terrorist and who you just know is a guilt-ridden, latent homosexual certain to drive one of his charges to suicide. Director/writer Edgerton (THE GIFT) unspools his story in a non-linear fashion that isn’t always cohesive in tying together what happened when it did. Plus there’s no explanation ever attempted to explain why those in the protagonist’s inner circle, including a wannabe girlfriend (Madelyn Cline), can’t figure out where his head and heart are at. For that reason, you might just find yourself lacking the sort of righteous indignation toward the depiction of a bogus “treatment” that could only be advocated by Bible-thumping, homophobic, narrow-minded pinheads and Mike Pence. The “therapy sessions” have a harrowing, surreal quality about them that would have been more disturbing had we known from the outset that this is a true story. Thinking back on this movie had me realizing that a couple of interesting characters were never really fleshed out as they should have been like the inmate Gary (Troye Sivan) who’s figured out how to show that the “treatment” is working to fool the “counselors” or the creepy Jon (Xavier Dolan) whose observations induce instant discomfort. While religion gets the occasional skewering that its’ worst traits deserve, there’s also an even-handed portrayal of Crowe’s (GLADIATOR) minister and his normally submissive wife (Nicole Kidman) whose ultimate refusal to shun her son makes for her own “coming out”. This is certainly a well-intentioned film that calls for acceptance and tolerance. But the tone never transcends that of one of those old afterschool specials titled “I Think I’m Probably Gay” and this subject matter deserved a lot better. CRITIC’S GRADE: C+
CLOSING CREDITS: When I heard that Kevin Hart (CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE) had been selected to host next year’s Academy Awards, I thought it to be an excellent choice. Despite a filmography of mostly crappy movies, Hart is a stand-up dynamo of a comedian sure to up the ratings and improve the entertainment quotient of what’s usually three-and-a-half hours of some of the worst television in any given year. But two days after the announcement, Hart decided to bow out after some anti-gay, anti-trans “tweets” that he had made as far back as 2009 resurfaced. On one, he promised to hit his son with a baseball bat if he ever showed interest in a doll house or any “gay stuff”. The backlash was to be expected since the entertainment industry has a history of being more accepting and tolerant of gay people even though they were usually portrayed in movies as either tragic figures or demented villains until about the mid ‘90s. In a sense, though, I can’t help but think that both sides missed out on some golden opportunities because of this brouhaha. On the one hand, Hart missed a chance for a popular celebrity to admit his past mistakes while the Academy missed out on a chance to demonstrate the value of forgiveness before an international audience. By the way, is Neil Patrick Harris available?