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.
Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By The Sea is another intuitive film from the writer/director, a blend of the intellectual character/grief study of his You Can Count On Me and the inquisitiveness of Margaret. This film may lack the organic highs of his two previous efforts, but key to its sturdiness is a sharp screenplay and a bone-deep performance by Casey Affleck. The film and Affleck are raw like the bitter cold of winter, but lifted by the burning soul underneath.