September 14, 2018

SHOWBUZZDAILY Toronto Film Festival Reviews: “Boy Erased” & “Vita & Virginia”


BOY ERASED (Focus/Universal – November 2):  Joel Edgerton’s film is the second of the year concerning gay conversion therapy, and its tone is far more conventional than The Miseducation of Cameron Post.  Lucas Hedges plays Jared Eamons (this is a fictionalized version of a true story), son of southern pastor Marshall (Russell Crowe) and gracious housewife Nancy (Nicole Kidman).  He’s a dutiful young man, but but deeply conflicted about stirrings his religion tells him are wrong.  After a disturbing incident at college, he comes out to his parents, and they (mostly his father) deposit him into a conversion institute, where the young men and women are intimidated and browbeaten into renouncing their natures at the risk of being kept on premises for months if not years.  (Edgerton himself plays the head “counselor.”)  As with Beautiful Boy, Erased has the kind of script where every character exists only in relation to the main issue of the story, and although the cast includes such interesting figures as the director Xavier Dolan and the singer Troye Sivan as fellow inmates, their roles are limited.  Hedges once again proves himself an enormously promising leading man, but his character here is much less multi-faceted than the one he plays in Ben Is Back, and that’s similarly the case with Nicole Kidman, perfectly fine here but with a shadow of the material she has in Destroyer.  Crowe does his best with the most doctrinaire role in the picture.  As a director, Edgerton captures the somber tone he was clearly seeking, and he pulls off the one rousing sequence near the end in an audience-pleasing way.  But it’s a measure of his approach that when a credits-sequence update crawl reveals something about the character Edgerton plays, it comes off as a punchline rather than as something that illuminates the man.  Boy Erased accomplishes its goals, but it’s all too easy to read.

VITA & VIRGINIA (no distrib – TBD):  That’s Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf.  Although the latter is far better remembered today, both were leading lights of the British 1920s literary world, and with their husbands, pioneers in open marriage.  Chanya Button’s film, based on a play by Eileen Atkins and the letters of the women, traces the delicate arc of their relationship, which shifted from mutual admiration, to romance and obsession, to friendship.  Sackville-West (Gemma Arterton) was the more financially successful of the two writers, and the more well-off, with the diplomat Harold Nicolson (Rupert Penry-Jones) as husband, while Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki) and her husband Leonard (Peter Ferdinando) were the cooler pair, leaders of the Bloomsbury bohemian group.  Sackville-West pursued Woolf, but when Woolf fell, she fell hard, and created the omni-sexual title character of her novel “Orlando” (played in the film version by Tilda Swinton) with Sackville-West as her inspiration.  Button tracks all of this, as well as Woolf’s mental instability, and attempts to avoid stodginess with a modern score by Isobel Waller-Bridge, although the costumes and production are more traditionally in the mode of prestige cinema.  Vita & Virginia tells a compelling story that deserves to be remembered, but its chief accomplishment as a film is giving meaty leading roles to Arterton and Debicki, who are often used decoratively, especially in Hollywood projects (and especially Arterton, who bears Prince of Persia, Quantum of Solace and Clash of the Titans on her resume).  Both actresses give complex, convincing performances, and the film as a whole is satisfying as a committed if staid telling of a piece of 20th-century history.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."