Consider Peter Hedges’ Ben is Back as a natural antecedent to his Pieces of April, with a few key improvements. The largely despised previous film was a Thanksgiving-set early-digital filmmaking effort with effortful emotional maneuverings in telling a story of a fractured family. This time he turns to Christmas to display deeper and wider reaching splinters within a broken home, this time coping with the addiction of the eldest titular son Ben Burns, played by Lucas Hedges. Though the writer/director delivers something less garishly composed than its quasi cinematic cousin, Ben is Back is largely aided by the vigor of Julia Roberts’ turn as the mother Holly.
Adapted from Gerrard Conley’s memoir, Boy Erased paints a picture of repressed queer white middle America, in all of the religious familial practice and assumption of normalcy to go with the setting. Lucas Hedges plays the author (here named Jared Eamons) as he is sent to a gay conversion center called Love In Action by his parents, played by Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe. In the hands of sophomore director Joel Edgerton (himself playing Love in Action’s mouthpiece and leader Victor Sykes) however, this search for healing is detrimentally willing to sacrifice what’s real.
The Happy Prince suffers the familiar strains of the modern biopic, charting the humiliating downfall of Oscar Wilde with structurally scattered and emotionally limited effect. Obviously a project of great importance to Rupert Everett, as the actor wrote and directed the film in addition to starring as the notorious writer, the film is still notably passionate despite its haphazard expediency. What we ultimately get is affectionate portraiture shoved into a soggy package that often mistakes its ping ponging construction for insightful texture.
When dissension needs to be heard, is it still better to speak with nothing to say than to not speak at all? As Ike Barinholtz’s directorial debut The Oath shows, it may be better leaving the outcry to voices that can convince rather than be simply loud. The film feels spiritually adjacent to the quasi-science fiction of The Purge franchise, portraying a future where the American government institutes a signed oath to the administration, enforced by both shadowy agencies and the social demands of those around us. The potential consequences of opposition are as scary as the futility of dealing with the devoted. But Barinholtz can’t move deeper than the lowest common denominator of his themes.
As told in the real life account of David Sheff and his addict son Nic, caregiving for the addict is a process of learning from avoidable mistakes made on a foundation good intentions. Director Felix Van Groeningen brings their story to the screen by unfortunately finding much of the same footing with Beautiful Boy. The film has its heart in the right place, well-meaning and holistically aimed, but makes crucial and sometimes repeated missteps that sink the entire enterprise. It’s a film too lacking in self-awareness to get out of its own way and to detrimental effect.