Movie Review: Boy Erased

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Jared (Lucas Hedges) is attracted to boys in Joel Edgerton’s sophomore directorial feat, Boy Erased. (Source: Variety)

In 2015, Joel Edgerton made his directorial debut with The Gift. A movie, that sounded like a generic thriller, defied all expectations. It was an unnerving Hitchockian psychological thriller about a young couple’s world turning upside down when someone from the husband’s past comes into their life. Not only did Edgerton deliver a harrowing performance as the creepy stalker, but it also showcases a good future in filmmaking for the Aussie star. Now–he returns to the director’s chair for Boy Erased, a film that has a chance to generate award buzz.

Based on Garrard Conley’s memoir of the same name, the movie is set in Arkansas in the early 2000s. Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges) is the only child of Marshall (Russell Crowe) and Nancy (Nicole Kidman). He’s living a happy life. He goes to church every Sunday, works at his father’s car dealership, and dates one of the prettiest girls in his school.

One day, Jared tells his parents he is attracted to boys. Due to their dismay, they force him to attend Refuge (formerly Love in Action), a gay conversion therapy program run by chief therapist Victor Sykes (Edgerton). While Jared befriends some of the attendees, including Gary (Troye Sivan, the Aussie pop star who also contributes the film with his original song “Revelation”), he learns about the program’s secrets while on his journey to faith and redemption.

Boy Erased is one of those movies where it might go into soap-opera territory. What Edgerton does–thanks to his sublime direction and screenplay–is something raw, beguiling, and poignant. Like Moonlight, Call Me by Your Name, and the more recent Love, Simon, the movie never exploits its message about self-discovery. The audience is with Jared every step of the way begging for his parents to accept him for what he truly is. Although conversion therapy seems to be a great opportunity for him, at first, it doesn’t turn out what it seems. “The truth cannot be converted,” helms the tagline.

Fresh from starring in two award-winning films Manchester by the Sea and Lady Bird, Hedges gives his most mature performance. The audience sympathizes with him and his struggle of coming out, which is shown in subtle yet harrowing flashbacks where he hangs out with some boys while attending college. The supporting cast–mainly Crowe, Kidman, Edgerton, and Flea (of Red Hot Chili Peppers fame)–has their “big moment”, but Hedges is the one who makes this thoughtful and devastatingly powerful film shine bright. One of the year’s best!

4/4

Movie Review: Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

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Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) gives a piece of her mind to Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell) in Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. (Source: Variety)

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is something Joel and Ethan Coen would direct. It has the dark comedy mixed with drama. Frances McDormand, Joel’s wife and collaborator, leads a terrific cast as a woman on a quest for the truth.

If only they were actually attached. However, that’s not the case.

Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths) writes and directs this tale about the fight for justice. It’s foul-mouthed. It’s devastating. It’s violent. And it’s funny.

Divorced mother Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) has heard nothing about who is responsible for raping and murdering her daughter Angela seven months ago. She goes to the local advertising company to rent three billboards outside her home to get the attention from the authorities. They read: “RAPED WHILE DYING.” “STILL NO ARRESTS?” HOW COME, CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?”

After appearing on the news, she becomes a local celebrity. Not surprisingly, her decision of the billboards becomes a controversial topic. When Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) and Officer Dixon (the understated Sam Rockwell) get involved in the case, it’s on!

As a British filmmaker, McDonagh truly understands how messed up our world can be. Especially in America, there has been problems concerning police brutality over the years, from the Detroit riots to the incident in Ferguson. It’s still a recurring issue. Kudos to a razor-sharp script, Three Billboards showcases the madness within its protagonist and the small town she resides.

McDormand’s Hayes is somebody worth rooting for. Despite her frustration, she never backs down to have the police provide her any information about who the perpetrator is. Her morals come into play perfectly here. Her comedic timing is also the icing on the cake. When she drives pass the reporter about the billboards, she tells her this is only the beginning.

She also has a beautiful scene where she encounters a deer, a sign that it might be her daughter reincarnated. “You’re not trying to make me believe in reincarnation, are you?” she asks. “You’re pretty, but you ain’t her.” There is a possibility her brilliant performance will be a shoe-in for her first Oscar since Fargo.

Featuring career-best performances by Harrelson, Rockwell, Peter Dinklage, and Lucas Hedges, Ben Davis’ flawless cinematography, Carter Burwell’s stunning score, and perhaps one of the best screenplays of the year, Three Billboards is a terrific American movie. Certainly one worth discussing about for years to come.

4/4

Movie Review: Lady Bird

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Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) with her boyfriend Danny (Lucas Hedges) in Lady Bird, directed by Greta Gerwig. (Source: IMDb)

Ah–how refreshing it is to see something totally original.

Lady Bird marks the directorial debut of Greta Gerwig. The offbeat actress is known for collaborating with Noah Baumbach in movies such as Frances Ha, Greenberg, and Mistress America. For her first film in which she also wrote the screenplay, she makes a coming-of-age tale based on her own life living in Sacramento, California, set almost exactly one year after 9/11. I have never seen a movie this touching all year.

Set during the 2002-2003 school year, Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan)–who chooses to go by “Lady Bird”–is a senior going to an all-girl Catholic high school. She really wants to move out of her parent’s house to go to college in New York City. Her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf), a hard-working nurse, disapproves of her daughter leaving Sacramento and wants her to be close to home. Because she works double at the hospital, she struggles to give her enough support for Lady Bird and her unemployed husband Larry (Tracy Letts).

Throughout the school year, Lady Bird slowly begins to learn how to be accepted by those around her including best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein), her boyfriends Danny (Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea) and Kyle (Timothée Chalamet, the upcoming Call Me by Your Name), and her teachers.

The most rewarding aspect about Lady Bird is how Gerwig avoids any coming-of-age cliches. She puts the post-9/11 factors to fair use (“9/11 Never Forget” are the words on the bulletin board early in the film). For instance, the father is laid off at his job and is there for his daughter every step of the way about her decisions after high school. Every character feels like they are real people we see every day.

From delivering stellar performances in movies such as Atonement, Hanna, and Brooklyn, Saoirse Ronan dazzles once again as our protagonist. She’s not upset about the politics, but she wants to be accepted by her family and peers. Most importantly, her mother (Oscar-worthy performance by Metcalf). The dynamic between the two is easily the highlight of the film. They do argue with each other every now and then, but they love each other very much. When her mother tells her daughter to be the best version she can be, Lady Bird replies: “What if this is the best version?”

With Sam Levy’s smooth cinematography and a great soundtrack, Lady Bird is filled with twists, turns, and humor. There is one particularly hilarious scene where a priest (who is also a football coach) takes charge of the theater company. In preparation for the school’s production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, he shows the kids a play-by-play of how the play is going to turn out. What a delightful love letter to Gerwig’s hometown and one of the best films of 2017!

4/4

Movie Review: Manchester by the Sea

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Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) looks after his nephew in Manchester by the Sea. (Source: Los Angeles Times)

Over the years, the State of Massachusetts has become one of the most popular filming locations. Particularly there are a lot of great films set in Boston; such as Good Will Hunting, The Departed, Mystic River, The Town, and so on. As a New Englander (Maine, to be more specific), the settings in those films are so familiar to me and the characters remind me of the people I meet on a day-to-day basis. Movies not only set but filmed anywhere in New England area feel just as authentic as its culture.

From receiving unanimous praise since its premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Manchester by the Sea is also generating Oscar buzz. I can certainly see why.

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is working as a janitor at an apartment complex in Quincy. Living by himself in a studio apartment, he spends most of his time drinking at the local pub. One chilly winter day, he gets a phone call about his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) dying from congestive heart failure. Lee sorts out plans for his brother’s funeral while looking after his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges, Moonrise Kingdom), who plays on the high school hockey team and has two girlfriends—Sylvie (Kara Hayward, also from Moonrise Kingdom) and Sandy (Anna Baryshnikov). Once he returns to his hometown, Lee’s past begins to creep up on him.

Kenneth Lonergan has written and directed a raw, funny, affectionate work of art centering on one man’s grief. Casey Affleck’s Lee may be stubborn and selfish, but he tries to connect with his nephew like he did years ago. It’s hard not to sympathize with him. Accompanied by a haunting score by Lesley Barber as well as segments from Handel’s Messiah, the audience sees him go through a lot after his brother’s death. The audiences learn about how and why he left for Quincy through a series of flashbacks—then, having to come back. In one scene, Lee meets his ex-wife Randi (the lovely Michelle Williams) on the street, and cannot make a conversation while she’s expressing her heartache. As devastating as that scene is, it makes up for it with its deadpan sense of humor. Especially when Patrick asks Lee what happened to his hand, Lee tells him he cut it by smashing a window. “For a minute there, I didn’t know what happened,” Patrick replies.

2016 has been a spectacular year for movies. I’ll be happy if Manchester by the Sea or Moonlight takes home the big prize. But, this is a movie about life. Best film of the year!

4/4