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Posts Tagged ‘Lucas Hedges’

Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges

“BEN IS BACK” My rating: B

113 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Before it goes belly up in the third act, Peter Hedges’ “Ben Is Back” presents itself as one of the more insightful films about drug addiction.

Like that other contemporary drug drama, “Beautiful Boy,” this one focuses on the relationship between a parent and an addicted child. But whereas “Beautiful Boy” was presented from the POV of an adult, “Ben…” focuses heavily on the young user.

Indeed, Lucas Hedges (the writer/director’s son) is both heartbreaking and terrifying as the title character, who pops up at his family’s suburban New York home on Christmas Eve when he was supposed to be in rehab.

His mom, Holly (Julia Roberts), finds herself welcoming her long-lost son even as she scurries about emptying the medicine cabinets. She wants to believe Ben when he tells her that his drug counselor okayed this Christmas visit, but after thousands spent on recovery programs and repeated relapses, she’s not getting her hopes up.

Her first outing with her newly returned son takes them to the local cemetery, where she bluntly asks Ben where he wants to be buried.  Or does he prefer cremation?

Ben’s teenage sister Ivy (Kathryn Newton) is even more cynical. She as much as tells her brother that the family no longer needs his kind of trouble. (There are also a couple of very young step siblings, the result of Holly’s second marriage to Neal — played by Courtney B. Vance; his  deep pockets have financed Ben’s so-far-unsuccessful efforts to turn his life around.)

Still, Ben is so earnest and eager to please — playing with his stepbrother and stepsister, offering to do chores — that hearts melt a bit.

Hedges’ script is interesting in that it avoids actual drug use and the nuts and bolts of rehab, focusing instead on the human damage Ben has left behind.

Attending a local AA meeting, he meets a young woman to whom he used to sell drugs. She’s a wreck, and he feels at least partly responsible.

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Lucas Hedges

“BOY ERASED”My rating: B 

114 minutes | MPAA rating: R

In real life, forgiveness is a virtue.

In cinema, it’s a handicap.

That may be why Joel Edgerton’s “Boy Erased,” based on Gerrard Conley’s memoir of undergoing gay conversion therapy as a teen, seems simultaneously important and a bit underwhelming.

The film (and, presumably, Conley’s book) doesn’t go looking for villainy in religious-backed efforts to pray the gay away. The movie is astonishingly open minded and open hearted.  The folk who operate conversion camps are given the benefit of the doubt; they appear sincere in their beliefs and seem to have the best interests of their young clients at heart.

They’re  misguided, sure. But not evil.

That sort of evenhandedness, while morally sound, is narratively problematic. Great drama needs great conflict, and “Boy Erased” soft-pedals issues of prejudice and persecution that might kick the film into dramatic high gear.

What we’re left with is a well-acted, insightful drama that is more mournful than pissed off.

Egerton’s picture (he wrote and directed) begins with college freshman Jared Eamons (a terrific Lucas Hedges) arriving at a big city conversion camp with his mother, Nancy (Nicole Kidman, with the poofy blonde ‘do and vaguely out-there fashion sense of a tasteful Tammy Faye Bakker).

While his mom retreats to the hotel where the two will be sharing a suite for the next two weeks, Jared gets a walkthrough of the joint.  His wallet, cell phone and personal effects are placed in a box and locked away (it’s a bit like reporting to prison).  His journal, in which he scribbles notes for possible short stories, is confiscated (it will be returned to him with certain pages missing). He’s told that all outside reading materials, music, radio and TV are banned.

The man in charge, Victor (director Edgerton), approaches the young men and women in his custody with the sort of enthusiasm and concern exhibited by a good athletic coach. He’s totally upbeat about the possibility of these kids bringing themselves back to God.

Because it’s really not their fault, you see.  Not that they were born gay.  No, that’s a myth.  Rather, at some point in their developmental years these individuals had their psyches warped by someone — usually a family member —  who triggered their gayness.

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Casey Affleck

Casey Affleck

“MANCHESTER BY THE SEA” My rating: A-

137 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Doesn’t life provide us with enough grief? Do we have to buy movie tickets to experience more of it on the big screen?

It’s an understandable sentiment … and completely wrong in the case of “Manchester by the Sea.”

Brilliantly written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan (“You Can Count on Me”) and featuring a major-league lead performance from the ever-surprising Casey Affleck, this riveting, soul-wrenching feature is about how we deal — or don’t — with grief.

Yeah, it’s heavy. It’s also unexpectedly funny, deeply moving and almost unbearably wise when it comes to the labyrinthine workings of the human heart.

We first encounter Lee Chandler (Affleck) on the job at a Boston-area apartment complex. In return for handyman chores — hauling trash, blowing out drains — he’s allowed to live in a monkish cellar room. Lee is a prickly sort who often rubs tenants the wrong way. At night he drinks until it’s time to instigate a barroom brawl.

Clearly, something’s eating at this guy.

When word arrives that Lee’s older brother, Joe, has died of a heart attack, he reluctantly returns to the Massachusetts fishing village of his youth to settle affairs. There Lee discovers that he has been named as the guardian of Joe’s 16-year-old son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges).

He’s totally unprepared.

Lonergan’s screenplay is a sort of psychological mystery that alternates scenes of Lee in the present — struggling with the horny teen for whom he is now responsible, encountering faces from his youth — with his troubled past, depicted in flashbacks that drift in and out without warning.

In these scenes from Lee’s earlier life we see him working a fishing boat with his brother (Kyle Chandler) and get glimpses of his home life with wife Randi (Michelle Williams) and three small kids.

He’s friendly, even borderline jolly.

Clearly something traumatic occurred between then and now. (more…)

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