Not so gay gay times: 'Boy Erased'

By Tom Von Malder | Feb 03, 2019
Photo by: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment Lucas Hedges and Nicole Kidman play son and mother in "Boy Erased."

Owls Head — Boy Erased (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 114 min.). Based on a true story -- but with all the main characters' names changed -- "Boy Erased" is the story of Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges, Oscar nominee for "Manchester By the Sea"), the son of a Baptist pastor in a small town in Arkansas, who is outed to his parents (Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe as Nancy and Marshall Eamons) by a college classmate and then pressured into attending a conversion therapy program. The film is written and directed by Joel Edgerton, who also plays Victor Sykes, head of the Refuge conversion program at Love in Action.

As presented, conversion therapy seems almost more for the parents of the participants than the participants themselves, many of whom have been forced to attend. Edgerton presents flashbacks to Jared's life between therapy sessions, and the film comes much more alive during those flashbacks, which include Jared interacting with Chloe (Madelyn Cline), a maybe girlfriend, and Jared meeting Henry (Joe Alwyn) and Xavier (Theodore Pellerin) while attending college. The most outrageous aspect is that Jared is pushed into conversion therapy for mostly just having thoughts about other men, his actual experience being limited to one horrific incident in which he is the victim of rape.

The acting by Hedges and Kidman really lifts the film. Kidman's Nancy has a somewhat parallel story as she learns though her son's struggles to support him more and just not accept the dictates of her husband. Crowe does well as the not accepting father (there is a similar role in "My Big Gay Italian Wedding"; see below). Developed less well, ironically, is Edgerton's Sykes, who uses "therapy" techniques that some might call abuse and whom, according to an end card and a deleted scene, ultimately abandoned conversion therapy. Sykes is one of the changed names from the actual, as is the Eamonses, as the book, "Boy Erased: A memoir," was written by Garrard Conley about his true story. Also in the cast are Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers as Brandon, who teaches the conversion participants the manly way to stand and other physical activities, and musician Troye Sivan as Gary, one of the therapy participants.

Both Hedges and the song "Revelation," co-written by Sivan, were nominated for Golden Globes. Extras include one extended and 16 deleted scenes (32:54) total. Three include more with Chloe (and one scene has Chloe's younger brother talking to Jared about how gay a video game character seems, which also made me think he might have been hitting on Jared), a suicide attempt, Jared's dorm room painted with slurs, and a very late apology by Sykes (apparently it is after Jared's first published articles about the conversion camp). There also is a sit down with Hedges and Conley (3:10); a look at Kidman and Crowe as Jared's parents (5:41); and the cast and crew commenting on Edgerton and his many roles on the film (4:32). Grade: film 3 stars; extras 2.25 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

Bent (1997, Film Movement, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NC-17, 104 min.). The film, which won the Award of the Youth for director Sean Mathias at the Cannes Film Festival in 1997, brought to light the then lesser-known persecutions of homosexuals by the Nazis from the Night of the Long Knives  in 1934 to the concentration death camps in World War II. The screenplay was written by Martin Sherman, who wrote the original stage play in 1978.

It tells the powerfully emotional story of Max (a brilliant Clive Owen, Oscar nominated for "Closer"), a devotee of decadent Berlin nightclubs, who falls in with a German soldier (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau of HBO's "Game of Thrones" as Wolf). Unfortunately, Wolf had a very connected German boyfriend and government agents are sent to kill him. This forces Max and his roommate (Brian Webber) to go on the run. Months later, though, they are captured by the Nazis, as their plans to escape to Amsterdam have fallen through. Actually, Uncle Freddie (Ian McKellen, who played Max, in the 1979 London premiere run of the play) had gotten Max a train ticket, but Max refused to go without Rudy.

Nazi brutality is particularly evident on the train ride to the camps, personified by Rupert Graves ("A Room with a View," "Maurice") as the Nazi officer in charge. During the violence of the train ride, an experienced prisoner (Lothaire Bluteau of "Jesus of Montreal" as Horst), returning from being in a Nazi propaganda film showing that homosexual prisoners were "OK," advises Max how to survive. At the camp, Max says he is Jewish and thus wears a yellow star, rather than the pink one, denoting homosexual, that Horst wears. Once at the Dachau camp, while mindlessly transferring rocks from one pile to another and then back again, the two develop an intimate mental friendship, without ever touching, which was against the rules.

The film's rating is mostly earned during the club scenes in Berlin at the start. The striking initial image is of Mick Jagger, dressed in drag as nightclub owner Greta, sitting on a floating perch or trapeze. A bit later Greta is lowered as he sings "Streets of Berlin." When the Nazi crackdown closes all the clubs, Greta, reverting back to George, who has a wife and children, flees, accompanied for a while by Max and Rudy. This beginning is also very theatrical in its staging.

The film is grim and sometimes harrowing, but it does illustrate the resilience of the human spirit, even in the worst of conditions. Look for Jude Law as a stormtrooper. The music score by Philip Glass , often using violins, is wonderful and appropriate. Bonus features include a behind-the-scenes look at filming a handful of scenes (11:35); Jagger's "Streets of Berlin" music video (2:43); and brief interviews with Webber (1:42), Owen (1:52), McKellen (1:33), Bluteau (2:22), screenwriter Sherman (1:41), Jagger (1:41) and director Mathias (2:14). Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 2.5 stars

Mario (German/Swiss, Wolfe DVD, NR, 124 min.). This film centers of the prejudice against gay athletes. Mario (Max Hubacher of "The Captain," review to follow in an upcoming column) is a promising striker on the YB U21s soccer team in Switzerland. As the team is trying to move up to the Promotion League, an additional striker is added to the team. He is Leon (Aaron Altaras). While Mario is blond and very Germanic, Leon is dark and almost broodingly sexy. The two are given an apartment -- Mario's first time living apart from his parents (Jurg Pluss and Doro Muggler as Daniel and Evelyn) -- and soon act on the growing attraction between themselves. A tentative kiss leads them to becoming boyfriends.

All is cool until a teammate apparently sees them sharing a kiss on an afternoon off and reports them to the club. The club officials say they have no problem with the players being gay, but fear how it being made public would affect the team and its fans. They advise them against any signs of affection in public. Still, the rumors and some nastiness exists within the team and their agents want them to be seen with women to help dispel any rumors. This takes a toll on the men's relationship, as Leon would rather be open about things, but Leon uses his longtime friend Jenny (Jessy Moravec) as a date.

While the ending is bittersweet, it does ring true. The only extra is a lengthy, and good, Marcus Weibusch music video, "The Day Will Come" (9:32), which tells a similar story with different actors and goes on as a plea for homosexual recognition. Grade: film 3.25 stars; extras 2.5 stars

My Best Friend (Mi mejor Aamigo) (Argentina, Breaking Glass DVD, NR, 91 min.). In this film, teenager Lorenzo (Angelo Mutti Spinetta) plays guitar, is chosen last for sports and keeps his homosexual leanings secret. His life is pretty quiet with his parents and younger brother Luky in beautiful Patagonia. Then, one day his father decides to host Caito (Lautaro Rodriguez), the son of a friend from Buenos Aires. We learn later that Lorenzo's father had moved from Buenos Aires to escape a life of violence and drugs. Luky, by the way, is played by Mutti Spinetta's real-life brother Benicio, and they sure look like brothers.

The heavily tattooed Caito initially seems withdrawn, but he and Lorenzo start bonding when they sneak out to go to a pool hall/bar one evening. However, as their friendship grows, Lorenzo's parents become fed up with Caito's taking off without warning. After Caito tells Lorenzo the real reason he had to leave Buenos Aires, the two go off on a weekend camping trip, knowing that possibly their time together has become short. The film, written and directed by Martin Deus, is a nicely done. It is about how people can suddenly come into one's life and change it for the better. While Lorenzo is gay, it is not the key fact in the movie and does not inform his friendship with Caito. Angelo Mutti Spinetta gives a wonderfully muted performance.

Two of the extras are in Spanish with no subtitles: one is an interview with the director (28:05) and the other is a behind-the-scenes look at the film's music (19:55). There are subtitles with duo interviews of Mutti Spinetta and Rodriguez (1:49) and Moro Anghileri and Guillermo Pfening, who play Lorenzo's parents (1:27). Finally, there is director Deus' short film, "The Prisoner" (24:03), about two young men who take a third prisoner during war games (the participants wear uniforms similar to Boy Scouts). It is an entertaining film. Grade: film 3.25 stars; extras 2.5 stars for non-Spanish language

My Big Gay Italian Wedding (Puoi baciare lo sposo) (Italy, Breaking Glass DVD, NR, 90 min.). Antonio (Cristiano Caccamo) and Paolo (Salvatore Esposito), although both are from small towns in Italy, live together in Berlin, along with flatmate Benedetta (Diana Del Bufalo). The film. co-written and directed by Alessandro Genovesi, opens with Paolo's point of view as his cute boyfriend Antonio tells how they met.  Antonio then proposes marriage and the camera pulls back to reveal Paolo, a more "bearish" character than the viewer probably was imagining.

While Paolo is out, and his mother has not spoken to him in three years because of it, Antonio is not, but plans a trip to his hometown to tells his parents and announce their engagement. Antonio is from the beautiful, small town of Civitavecchia di Bagnoregio, about two hours from Rome, that is situated atop a hill. Called the "dying town," homes on the edge literally fall off as the years progress. There are about 250 residents and Antonio's father (Diego Abatantuono as Roberto) is the mayor. Antonio always goes home at Easter, as he plays Jesus in the annual Passion re-enactment.

Once there, Antonio's mother (Monica Guerritore as Anna) immediately supports Antonio, but his father gets angry and refuses to officiate the wedding, which Anna's has insisted be held in town while the men are visiting. Anna eventually gets fed up enough that she throws Roberto out of the house. Meanwhile, to complicate things, Camilla (Beatrice Arnera), a former girlfriend of Antonio's whom he once had drunken sex with, has followed Antonio back home to wreck the engagement. Also along is the trio's new flatmate, former bus driver Donato (Dino Abbrescia), who recently has discovered he likes to wear dresses and female wigs. (My feeling is Abbrescia must be a famous Italian comedian as, until late in the film, he seems just around to provide comedy.)

The film ends with a big, fun, gay surprise, and the town setting is wonderful. Extras include a Q&A with Caccamo and Del Bufalo) on the film's opening night in Miami (13:58); and a very nice backstage look with the director and cast (13:07). Grade: film 3.25 stars; extras 2.5 stars

Hot To Trot (First Run Features DVD, NR, 87 min.). This documentary by Gail Freedman follows two pairings -- one female and one male -- over several years as they prepare to compete in the world same-sex  couples dancing competition at the 2014 Gay Games in Cleveland. The dance categories are ballroom dancing and Latin dancing, and throughout the film, the bits of dancing shown are wonderful.

The male pair is Ernesto Palma from Costa Rico, and Robbie Tristan, although midway through, Tristan develops a brain tumor and has to return to his native Hungary for treatment, as medical assistance in the United States is too expensive.  Robbie is replaced by Nikolai Shpakov, who had only danced in mixed couples previously. With same-sex couples, the roles are divided into leader and follower. The female pair is Kieren Jameson, from New Zealand, and Emily Coles. So only one of the dancers followed in the film was born in the United States. Palma, in fact, recalls coming to the United States at age 19 and being addicted to crystal meth for five years before getting straight. While all the dancers are gay, their dance partners are not their life partners.

The film is an uplifting experience. The only extra is two text pages on director Freedman's background. Grade: film 3 stars

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