Jared Eamons, a Southern Baptist pastor’s son, can’t seem to get it up for his girlfriend. After an abuser calls Jared’s parents to say their son is gay (a pre-emptive strike), Jared denies it, then ultimately tells them that he does indeed have thoughts about other guys. The next thing you know, they’ve put him in a gay conversion program, which preaches love and honesty, but turns out to be a fascistic haven for shaming, declaring that you must renounce your “sins,” and trying to divert any anger you might have against the program’s leader into whatever other targets are available. In fact, the program veers between telling you that being gay is a choice and blaming your parents for it—all of which instruction you’re forbidden from telling your folks for fear that they might stop funding this crap.
That’s what happens in Boy Erased, written and directed by Joel Edgerton (from the memoir by Garrard Conley), who also costars as the program leader, and I found it a pretty harrowing look at the deeply misguided world of trying to “fix” people who are fine as is. Playing a passive character who eventually learns to speak up (and write articles), Lucas Hedges is extremely effective with his reacting, evolving, and ultimate refusal to follow orders. Russell Crowe is good as his God-fearing father and Nicole Kidman is fine as mom, who goes along with dad’s cleanse-thyself agenda until learning to buck up and speak for herself, like Jared does.
The message is that the road to hell is paved with good intentions (and also with some bad ones), and the net result is that it’s not Jared who needs to change, but dad and others like him. Also on board is Cherry Jones as a medical professional who’s savvy and caring, and Troye Sivan, who plays a fellow conversion subject, one who parrots the motto “Fake it until you make it,” urging Jared to just pretend he’s converted in order to get out of the hideous system. Stick with the film to see if Jared takes this advice—and at the end, you’ll learn the surprising trajectory of Edgerton’s character, which will surely turn you gay again.
From the closet to the screen, they’ve managed to make a feel-good story out of Freddie Mercury’s life. Bohemian Rhapsody details the Queen lead singer’s druggy, arrogant, sexually evasive years as a star, culminating with him making up with his band and his family, finding true love with a man, and triumphing at Live Aid, all before his premature death of AIDS. And it works.
I remember a 1970s nightclub party when Freddie was being wrangled by one of my closest friends, and my pal obstinately refused to introduce me; he was obviously terrified that I’d make Freddie uncomfortable with my open gayness as a reporter. At this point, Freddie dressed like a Christopher Street gay leather clone, and of course there was that band name (symbolizing both a monarch and something outrageous), but he wasn’t coming out on the record, preferring to stay mildly ambiguous while prancing around in leather and lip gloss. That’s covered in the movie, as Freddie is shown to have been initially involved with a woman (Mary Austin) who helps style him more flamboyantly, only to have him eventually tell her he thinks he’s bisexual. (Mary more correctly pegged him as just plain gay, and they stayed friends for life thanks to their mutual supportiveness.)
And then come the men—but not enough of them for my taste. There are two gay kisses in the movie—both of which are partially rebuffed—and, though there’s a rest stop moment and we also see a wild party at Freddie’s place, there isn’t the raunchy promiscuity that would have rang true for this icon in that era. When Freddie develops AIDS—a quick cough at the beginning, some light coughing up of blood later—it’s also handled so as not to offend the squeamish. (And Freddie tried to keep that aspect of his life hidden too, not wanting to be the AIDS poster boy, but instead wanting to go out performing—though he did tell the band, whom he playfully called “queens,” by the way.)
But other than that, the Bryan Singer-directed film deftly captures Freddie’s brash spirit, his stage posturing, his burning desire to be a rebel, and his eventual awakening, all wonderfully played by Rami Malek, who’s fully committed to the assignment. The actor even sports some false incisors to recreate Freddie’s unique mouth, which occasionally turns this into a movie about teeth, though ultimately it’s a film about triumph. The rollicking biopic is entertaining and highly recommended. “Any way the wind blows,” it will rock you.
Some other movie quickies: Yen Tan’s 1985, the opening night feature of New York’s NewFest, has some things in common with the two films I just discussed. As in Boy Erased, dad is religious and disapproving, while mom only pretends to agree with him on some things and ultimately rejects religious oppression. As in Bohemian Rhapsody, the physical depiction of AIDS is way downplayed
The protagonist, Adrian (Gotham’s Cory Michael Smith), only has some light lesions and an occasional stomach ache and some weight loss, as he’s in the early stages of the illness. But this is very much its own film and well done, detailing Adrian’s holiday visit to his parents’ Texas household—which includes a bullied younger brother—as the folks (Michael Chiklis and Virginia Madsen) gradually figure out what’s happening to their son and subtly respond to that. It’s carefully paced, but builds to a very moving crescendo, the power being in what’s unsaid between the characters. (One tiny quibble: Adrian takes his brother to see the movie of A Chorus Line, but it’s sold out. That strains credibility since that movie was a big flop. How gay am I to know that?)
In the theaters, Beautiful Boy—a real-life drug addiction story—has a father/son plot that’s occasionally touching or illuminating, but the score is heavy handed (“Sunrise, Sunset” as the kid is growing up), and with some powerful Black Lives Matter-related films in our midst, the trajectory of a privileged white kid who ultimately survived an awful drug problem doesn’t seem like the most important story ever told, which it’s presented as. I found Boy Erased to be far more beautiful.
One more boy: Trophy Boy, a short by Emrhys Cooper about a dude who’s kicked out by his sugar daddy, had a premiere last week, having already shot a TV pilot version and a first episode. Zachary Quinto was at the premiere. Want to bet he’s involved in the series? Stay tuned, boys—and girls.
Billy, Do Be a Hero
At Rosie O’Donnell’s Rosie’s Kids gala at the Marriott Marquis last week, honoree Billy Porter (Pose)—who costarred with Rosie in Grease on Broadway in 1994—gave a fabulous speech after the kids did a rousing voguing number in his honor.
“I never felt completely safe,” Billy admitted, remembering his youth. “I always knew I was under attack….I came out in 1985 at 16 and I went straight to the front lines to fight for our lives—for the right to survive. I lived through the AIDS crisis. I don’t give a fuck about Trump! If you voted for Trump and you think it was a good idea, you should probably leave now. Once again in America, humanity is under attack and the kids are not all right. We’ve seen this before, and I’m going to remind you all that love always wins. Please stop being scared.”
Billy thanked a host of “angels” who helped him be a finer performer and person, and the speech alone deserves awards.
Sighn! Sign! My Icon!
On Saturday, I went with Mickey Boardman on our regular pilgrimage to Chiller Theater, a sprawling autograph show in New Jersey, where you can catch up with your faves from yesteryear and even procure a signed photo. There, Stephanie Powers told me about working with Tallulah Bankhead in the campy thriller Die! Die! My Darling! (“I was very young. She was extraordinary. We worked hard to do our best”); Geri Reischl related how she became “Fake Jan” in The Brady Bunch Hour (“Eve Plumb only want to do guest spots in it and concentrate on being a serious actress. They wanted a full commitment, so she declined”); and rocker Bebe Buell told me about living in Nashville (“It’s a blue enclave in a red state—and Taylor Swift is so great for mobilizing the vote!”)
I asked Ted Lange (Isaac From the Love Boat) who his favorite guest stars were on the show and he named old-time Hollywood types like Dana Andrews and Mickey Rooney because they had terrific, revelatory stories. He also enjoyed Andy Warhol and said, “I didn’t go home with him or anything, but we had nice conversations.”
Ted has written 27 plays, including The Cause, My Soul, a prequel to Othello that shows how Iago got that way. (“It’s sort of like Wicked,” I exclaimed, and he smilingly agreed.) He said next year he will do I’m Not Rappaport with Fred Grandy (“Gopher”) in Syracuse, and this reminded me of when the Golden Girls characters would say, they were going to see stuff like “Mr. Jamie Farr in The Caine Mutiny Court Marshall.” I love Ted Lange. Not so much Barbara Feldon (Get Smart), who had a snarky handler who asked me, “Do you have a Chiller press pass?” I wanted to say, “I have a wristband, I was approved by the organizer, I’ve covered this event a million times, and I’ve even put it in The New York Times. At this moment, when Barbara has literally one fan wanting her attention, I am way more famous than she is.”
But instead, I just showed her my wristband, upon which she decided, “She’s not doing press,” so I gladly scooted on to bigger names. After we left, there was a bomb scare and everyone had to evacuate! Are Magabombers now targeting 1960s sitcom stars? Old Man Scared.