By John H. Foote
The love of a parent is something children will never understand until they are parents themselves, should they ever be so lucky. It begins the moment we see the newborn child, a ferocious sense to protect from harm is what we father’s feel, to love and nurture what mothers feel. And we never give up on them, no matter how crazy they might be, dark their behaviour might become, we are always there for them. The greatest reference I can offer about the depth of love parents feel is to point to killer Karla Homolka and her mother who knew of her daughters’ crimes (her own sister among her victims) and still loved her, supported her and visited her in jail.
I am fortunate to be very close to my father, the best man I know. There are no pretentions with him, he is who he is and he does not care if you like that or not, that is him. He has been with me through some dark times and never faltered. When everyone has given up on you, chances are your parents never will, at least if they are at all like mine.
Nick (Timothee Chalamet) and his father David (Steve Carell) were as close as a father and son can be, David retaining custody in the divorce when his wife, Vicki (Amy Ryan) needed to find herself. Nick loves David’s second wife, Karen (Maura Tierney) and adores his step brother and sister who love him with equal abandon.
When Nick begins experimenting with marijuana his father is not worried, but things escalate very quickly and before he realizes it, Nick is a drug addict, having graduated from pot, to cocaine, heroin and now crystal meth. David watches in horror as his son, his beautiful boy becomes a stranger to him, one who lies, steals, cheats and betrays him in every possible way. One after the other rehab visit fails to get Nick on the straight and narrow, and though bright, realizing what the drugs are doing to him, he seems powerless to stop. Nick is as devastated as his father by what happens to their relationship, his father eventually little more than an ATM to the drug addled kid, until finally, he stops all giving, realizing he cannot help. When eight dollars goes missing from his little brothers’ life savings, David realizes Nick is beyond help.
Nick hooks up with his college sweetheart and they return to his fathers’ home not to visit but to rob them, breaking in, stealing electronics to sell for drugs, the greatest betrayal he could conceive. The next time Nick calls, the father ends contact for good, but of course nothing is forever. When Nick overdoses and nearly dies, his father is there yet again, and this time the young man fights harder than he ever did before, and end credits tell us he now is eight years clean.
The film is a devastating account of what addiction must be like not only for the addicted, but for the parent, who watches helplessly, not understanding the need for the drug.
If the film has a single failing, it is never answering what drove Nick to such hard drugs? A creative kid, excellent writer and student, college would have allowed him to surely spread his wings and fly, but instead he fell to earth a hopeless drug addict. Why? Not lack of love that is for sure. He tells us when he took meth for the first time he felt better than he ever had before, and I suppose the need is to repeat that feeling over and over, but of course the first time never can come again.
Chalamet is extraordinary as Nick, cementing his growing reputation as one of the finest young actors at work. His sublime performance in Call Me by Your Name (2017) earned him a Best Actor nomination and he should be in the running this year for Best Supporting Actor. Beyond the obvious drugged out or withdrawal scenes he captures, and beautifully, the need for the drugs, knowing they are his ruin. He must have them and though he apologizes over and over to his poor father, it is always going to end the same. You can see him all but swoon with pure bliss as the drug hits his brain, and alters his perception. The mood swings are explosively real, frightening, coming without warning, and breaking the hearts of those around him.
Steve Carell. When did this guy become some a profoundly good actor?? He was great in Foxcatcher (2014) a couple of years ago, but goes further, deeper with this. You can feel the weight of concern, of worry, of abject terror on his face as he worries about his son. The late nights, the calls to the police and hospital, he goes through a living hell with this boy he so loves.
Maura Tierney and Amy Ryan have smaller roles, but each actress fills them out with great compassion and humanity.
Director Felix Van Groeningen does a fine job with the actors, and balancing the tricky broken narrative he uses in exploring the relationship of father and son. A fine film, filled with hurt and heartbreak. Broken souls are captured on the silver screen.
“Let’s God the gay out of him” is the war cry of many a church in the Southern United States when it is suspected one of their flock might be, gasp, a homosexual!
Ignorance breeds fear.
When their son is accused of homosexual acts he did not commit (willingly) at his college, the Dean calls his parents and he is sent to be evaluated by a religious organization who pride (wrong word, sorry) themselves on bashing the gay out of the young people who are brought to them. Everything from reading the Bible, attacking homosexuality as an abomination, to bringing in a tough ex-con to talk about how to carry themselves as men are just some of the shocking treatments used on these kids. Some of them are so obviously homosexual and are going to continue to be that the treatment feels like some terrible torture, which I suspect it would be to anyone.
The excellent Lucas Hedges, so good in Manchester by the Sea (2016), is the young man accused of the acts after he himself is raped by his best friend, no doubt the informant. But he goes to satisfy his father, a minster portrayed with haughty superiority by Russell Crowe. In an exceptional display of range, after Destroyer, Nicole Kidman is the uptight mother who loves her son and will see this through with him no matter how it turns out.
It leads to some tough questions.
Why does the church think they have the right to dictate to any of us? Why do they think they possess the right to shame young people from being themselves? I believe we are born who we are, and we love who we choose. If a man and woman can have a good life together, go for it, but if two men or two women can have the same, why should they not be allowed to have that?? Who is anyone to determine who loves who?
Russel Crowe is a commanding force as the father, stunned by the allegations of what his son might be, though when he looks at him he sees only a boy he loves. Crowe has lost none of his power as an actor, and it was good to see him back in something worthy.
Lucas Hedges is the real deal, a sensitive actor who reminds me of a young Montgomery Clift, not in looks, but in what he brings to each role. One of the most powerful moments he has in the film is a moment where he sobs alone in the bathroom after the rape, filled with shame. The shame that is happened, and perhaps the shame he did not do more to stop it. You can see the conflict building in him, it is a lovely performance.
Where the film fails for me, is the near immediate decision to send him to this conversion camp, filled with other kids who suspect or know they are gay. Do his parents not trust him entirely? Are they so blinded by their religion and belief in God that they cannot see their son is in pain? He was assaulted??
Lots of questions asked, few answered.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.