You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Oscars: From ‘Beautiful Boy’ to ‘Ben Is Back,’ Rehab Dramas Aim for Empathy

From Joel Edgerton’s “Boy Erased,” which debuted at the Telluride Film Festival last week, to Felix Van Groeningen’s “Beautiful Boy” and Peter Hedges’ “Ben Is Back,” both unspooling in Toronto this weekend, there is a thread of rehabilitation drama running through this fall’s awards hopefuls.

Edgerton’s film is admittedly something of a side note here. There is nothing to “rehabilitate” with homosexuality, but his is a movie about gay conversion therapy with notes of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Short Term 12,” and for the headspace it depicts, it fits. Each of these films features a protagonist — two of them played by 21-year-old actor Lucas Hedges — desperate to change the reality of his life.

For Hedges in “Boy Erased,” that becomes a journey of self-proclamation, of standing up to a Bible-thumping father and a demonizing community, and learning that the change must be theirs. For Hedges in “Ben Is Back” and Timothée Chalamet in “Beautiful Boy,” it’s about battles lost and won in the war against addiction.

All three depict the impact of these journeys on family, and with that come ripe opportunities for actors primed for Oscar pitches this season.

Russell Crowe and particularly Nicole Kidman are aces in “Boy Erased,” two sides of the coin in the life of a young man coming to grips with who he is. Kidman likely has an easier track to awards attention here than in her starring vehicle “Destroyer,” a dark and gritty crime drama that’s a tougher sit (and finds her playing a less sympathetic character). Her “Boy Erased” turn is reminiscent of her Oscar-nominated “Lion” work, and for a film that bravely never gets big emotionally, she’s the source of what little of that it allows.

In “Beautiful Boy,” Steve Carell is the parent, worried sick about his son who, like Hedges’ character in “Ben Is Back,” is the product of a broken home. Category placement is still being sussed out for Van Groeningen’s film, but both Carell and Chalamet are technically leads, with the story coming from separate memoirs penned by their real-life counterparts. If Chalamet goes supporting, he’ll likely have the best shot at recognition.

The Hedges-hallmark naturalism of “Ben Is Back” might make it my favorite of the three, and a big part of that is Julia Roberts’ performance as a mother determined not to give up on her son. She scratches and claws her way through the film in support of someone she knows, deep down, she can’t trust, but who keeps aflame the instinct to never give up.

There’s also, by the way, a streak of this in Yann Demange’s Telluride debut “White Boy Rick.” Bel Powley plays the junkie daughter to a trying-his-damnedest Matthew McConaughey, the film’s real Oscar prospect, with a section dedicated to her rehabilitation. (Not to mention the handling in Bradley Cooper’s “A Star Is Born,” the best version of a classic story for how it finally makes its central male figure a sympathetic one. One simple tweak that helps achieve this: It’s the first version that depicts the character attempting rehab.)

Whether these films can actually break out of the festival circuit as awards contenders, or are merely fated to connect with audiences living through similar situations, is still to be seen. But it’s interesting to see them and their similar themes come together here at the start of a new awards season, and to consider the degrees of empathy achieved by the filmmakers behind them.

More Film

  • 'The Dirt' Review: A Mötley Crüe

    Film Review: 'The Dirt'

    A long time ago, the words sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll carried a hint of danger. The lifestyle did, too, but I’m talking about the phrase. It used to sound cool (back around the time the word “cool” sounded cool). But sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll has long since passed into the realm [...]

  • James Newton Howard Danny Elfman

    New Trend in Concert Halls: Original Music by Movie Composers — No Film Required

    Movie and TV composers are in greater demand than ever for, surprisingly, new music for the concert hall. For decades, concert commissions for film composers were few and far between. The increasing popularity of John Williams’ film music, and his visibility as conductor of the Boston Pops in the 1980s and ’90s, led to his [...]

  • Idris Elba Netflix 'Turn Up Charlie'

    Idris Elba in Talks to Join Andy Serkis in 'Mouse Guard'

    Idris Elba is in negotiations to join Andy Serkis and Thomas Brodie-Sangster in Fox’s fantasy-action movie “Mouse Guard” with “Maze Runner’s” Wes Ball directing. Fox is planning a live-action movie through performance capture technology employed in the “Planet of the Apes” films, in which Serkis starred as the ape leader Caesar. David Peterson created, wrote, [...]

  • Zac Efron Amanda Seyfried

    Zac Efron, Amanda Seyfried Join Animated Scooby-Doo Film as Fred and Daphne

    Zac Efron has signed on to voice Fred Jones while Amanda Seyfried will voice Daphne Blake in Warner Bros.’ animated Scooby-Doo feature film “Scoob.” It was revealed earlier this month that Will Forte had been set to voice Norville “Shaggy” Rogers, while Gina Rodriguez would be voicing Velma Dinkley. The mystery-solving teens and their talking [...]

  • 'Staff Only' Review: Cultures And Values

    Film Review: 'Staff Only'

    Marta (Elena Andrada) is 17, from Barcelona and alternately bored and mortified to be on a Christmas vacation to Senegal with her estranged dad, Manel (Sergi López), and annoying little brother, Bruno (Ian Samsó). For her, the freedoms of imminent adulthood, such as the occasional poolside mojito, are tantalizing close but still technically forbidden, rather [...]

  • Rocketman

    Candid 'Rocketman' Dares to Show Elton John as 'Vulnerable,' 'Damaged,' 'Ugly'

    Elton John movie “Rocketman” dares to portray the singer’s personality early in his career to have been, at times, “ugly,” Taron Egerton – who plays the pop star – told an audience at London’s Abbey Road Studios Friday, following a screening of 15 minutes of footage from the film. It is a candid portrayal, showing [...]

  • Ben Affleck

    Ben Affleck's Addiction Drama Set for Awards-Season Release

    Warner Bros. has given Ben Affleck’s untitled addiction drama an awards-season-friendly release date of Oct. 18. The film, which has been known previously as “The Has-Been” and “Torrance,” is directed by Gavin O’Connor and stars Affleck as a former basketball player struggling with addiction, which has led to him losing his wife. As part of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content