If you care about movies, or young, beautiful, talented boys, then you're familiar with Timothée Chalamet and Lucas Hedges. The 22-year-old and 21-year-old stir up Oscar talk with nearly every project they choose (with a few specific exceptions), and have already been nominated for Oscars (Chalamet for Best Actor in 2018 for Call Me By Your Name; Hedges for Best Supporting Actor in 2017 for Manchester by the Sea)
Now, they are once again at the forefront of award season gossip for their intense, daring, and socially-relevant roles as a young drug addict (Chalamet in Beautiful Boy) and a teenager sent to a gay conversion therapy program (Hedges in Boy Erased). Both leading roles are based on true stories, and are Extremely Emotional. (You’ll cry.)
Whether you’ve seen both, one, or neither, it’s obvious these two boys (who both co-starred as Saoirse Ronan’s love interests in Lady Bird, which, surprise surprise, garnered an Oscar nom for the brilliant actress) are attracting similar attention for their ability to simultaneously become characters — even ones based on real people — while maintaining a steady IRL fanbase.
In Beautiful Boy, Nic Sheff (Chalamet) is an outgoing, adventurous, intellectual, and privileged boy — much like Jared (Hedges) in Boy Erased. But, at a young age, Nic experiments with drugs and finds that he's drawn to the mind-altering, addictive, and readily available methamphetamine. The film ebbs and flows with Nic’s highs and lows from the drug, and from the guilt he feels when facing his caring, but smothering, father, David Sheff (Steve Carell). Throughout the movie, Nic only experiences real freedom a handful of times: When he’s head-banging to Nirvana, biking up an impossible hill with his sponsor, and driving with one hand hanging out the window, feeling the salty California breeze. The driving scene is one of special liberty, because car privileges were few and far between for Nic once his parents found out about his drug use. One of the most heartbreaking scenes in the movie also involves a car, this one being driven by his step-mother Karen (Maura Tierney) in a desperate attempt to chase down the boy she once knew. But, with his hand stretched out the rolled-down window and the other gripping the wheel, Nic experiences a high that is, for once, not fuelled by chemicals.
This exact same moment of freedom and personal victory is seen at the very end of Boy Erased. Jared has just left his dad’s (Russell Crowe) car dealership after giving him a moving ultimatum, and he’s feeling unburdened by the shame his family and his faith have placed on his shoulders for so long. In the car, headed back to New York City (where he has a job, a boyfriend, and a life of his own) Jared rolls down his window and sticks his hand out to catch the wind.
This tiny act of window rebellion is a stand-in for the larger themes of the film. Jared’s mother (Nicole Kidman) had an unsubstantiated phobia of Jared’s hand being ripped off by a passing truck, so she had long banned the innocent gesture. Multiple times in the movie, Jared opens his passenger seat window to get fresh air and stretch out his arm — and every time she scolds him and tells him that she thinks it’s dangerous, so it’s not allowed.
The subtle connection between the two films is easily missed, but that’s what makes it so interesting. These two very different real-life stories about boys growing up in a world their parents don’t understand both hinge on the same idea of freedom. For Jared, he’s breaking a rule his mother made for him, proving his point from the beginning: The rule had no reason to exist in the first place, much like the shame he felt for being gay. In Nic's case, it's a sign that he's in control of his own life for a brief moment. No longer at the whim of his father’s wishes, or the desire to take drugs, he’s just Nic, driving down a California highway. It’s a beautiful, passing moment of peace that everyone can relate to. Almost as beautiful as Elio crying in front of a fireplace. Almost.