As we head into awards season, there’s one sure bet. At least one film about a young man facing a crisis will be garnering nominations — and possibly all three. “Beautiful Boy,” “Boy Erased,” and “Ben is Back” not only love the letter B. They all explore families struggling with addiction or homosexuality as they try to find a way to love their son while his actions threaten to destroy their family lives. All three films showcase heartfelt performances by two talented young actors. Lucas Hedges (Academy Award nominee for “Manchester by the Sea”) in both “Boy Erased,” as a Christian teen in conversion therapy and “Ben is Back,” as a drug addict determined to spend Christmas with family. Timothée Chalamet (Golden Globe nominee) in “Beautiful Boy” is the affluent teen who spirals out of control with a meth addiction.
Having seen “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” starring the talented Chloë Grace Moretz, it’s hard not to compare Lucas Hedges’ performance to hers and find it less assured. “Boy Erased” is also about conversion therapy but it’s also a moving look at the relationship between this traumatized young man and his parents. Nicole Kidman gives another nuanced performance as a woman who loves her husband (Russell Crowe) and their religious life, but who knows her son is hurting and damaged by the church dogma and this awful practice of forcing him to be someone he’s not.
“Ben is Back” featured another mom-son relationship. Julia Roberts is receiving lots of critical acclaim for her performance as a woman determined to save her son even as she realizes she’s let a demon back into her home. Lucas Hedges is convincing as the young man who knows the truth about his addiction.
When a movie is set in an area you’re familiar with, like Marin County was for me in “Beautiful Boy,” I think it tends to draw people even deeper into the story. The juxtaposition of gorgeous settings with depraved behavior made it even more unsettling. For me, the interactions between Steve Carell’s devasted dad and Timothee Chalamet’s helpless lying boy left me weeping and wanting to read both books based on this real struggle: “Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction” and “Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines.”
If you’re only going to see one of the three, my recommendation would be “Beautiful Boy.” Heartbreaking but hopeful, the performances are award-worthy. This film is beautiful, mesmerizing and reveals the difficult truth that letting go when all you want to do is hold on, is sometimes the only way to save the one you love.