The teenage son of a pastor in Arkansas is enrolled in conversion therapy when he comes out as gay to his parents.
Treats Subject With Care;
Quiet, Thoughtful Direction;
Actors Display Strength.
As soon as I first saw the trailer for this several months ago, I knew it would end up in contention for a few Oscars. Having seen it, I still firmly believe this will be the case, featuring some great acting and direction. It tackles a topical issue and tells a dramatized version of a real story and draws on those experiences to produce a quietly powerful film that may not hit its mark entirely, but remains effective.
Jared (Lucas Hedges), son of pastor/car salesman Marshall (Russell Crowe) and hairdresser Nancy (Nicole Kidman), comes out to his parents and is sent to be “cured” of his homosexual “choice” at conversion therapy. Victor (Joel Edgerton) runs the program like a bit of a drill instructor to results that are mixed at best. It is a simple story devoid of big surprise moments or complicated subplots and relies on its actors to draw the audience in. Hedges continues to prove he may be the best young actor on the planet, showing us a young man that is scared, confused and angry. He is deeply traumatized in a scene that is very difficult to watch, and carries that pain with him throughout the remainder of the film and impresses along the way, as he always does. Crowe and Kidman are great as his parents, never coming across as authoritarian cavemen who don’t have their son’s best interests at heart. They are also confused and frightened and believe they’ve taken the best course of action. Strength is a central theme throughout Edgerton’s script and it’s on display wherever you look. Jared is strong in the face of the adversity of both the program and his inner conflicts, and strong in the face of his parents disapproval. His parents are strong in their faith in God, love for their family and their convictions. Victor uses intimidation to pose as strength to attempt to force a cure on these young people that he has decided are broken. Everyone is either strong or committed to do what Victor instructs: fake it until you make it.
Edgerton has produced a film that is true to his talent as an actor, writer and director and wears multiple hats valiantly. Of the three, however, I’d say the script is the weakest. It is certainly not a bad effort, but given the nature of the story it should have packed more emotional punch than it did. However, it’s also possible that I’m overanalyzing things because I’ve been seeing so many movies lately and upon a second viewing I may find that aspect to be richer than I realized. In the director’s chair, Edgerton quietly observes every side of the issue to give a rounded-out view of matters. He knows when to hold onto a closeup a bit longer and when to let the actors tell the story with their faces instead of more words. But there are some aspects of the story that I wish had been explored further, specifically something revealed in the postscript in the credits. It just feels incomplete, especially when you consider the fact that this practice still goes on and is even endorsed by the current Vice President, in the face of all facts, logic, reason and common sense. There is nothing outwardly wrong with the film, it just feels like it is missing some much larger potential.