Boy Erased is a intriguing and thorough approach to a challenging issue, and is a major achievement for writer and director Joel Edgerton. The film approaches the subject of gay conversion therapy through the eyes of both those directly affected and how highly religious communities fit into the equation, serving as both a tribute to those forced to go through the “therapy” and an outreach to get religious communities to understand their evils. It’s a challenge to do both, but Edgerton is able to capture both the horrific practices whilst still constructing a challenging family drama.
Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges) is a university student who’s forced to attend a gay conversion center after his homosexuality is discovered by his overbearing Baptist preacher father (Russel Crowe). Jared is brought by his mother (Nicole Kidman) who where he and a group of fellow young men and women are tormented by the camp’s head counselor Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton).
This is up there with Manchester by the Sea as being Hedges’s best work; his confusion and struggle to find an identity when he lacks guidance is heart wrenching to watch, and his few emotional breakdowns are the work of a truly gifted actor. I loved the complicated family relationship; Kidman and Crowe are terrific as two very different types of parents, and the film doesn’t give any easy answers as to how to approach this dynamic, nor do the characters come out easily redeemed. Crowe’s final scene in particular is powerful, as the film doesn’t attempt to make him redeemable, while still approaching the character in a realistic way.
Edgerton pulls double duties well, and gives a truly despicable performance as Sykes, whilst giving subtle hints to how his character history affected his path. As a director, he doesn’t shy away from the ugliest parts of the story, including one of the most disturbing scenes of the year featuring Joe Alwyn that left my audience speechless. The only real issue here is the overuse of slow motion and an overbearing score; these scenes would be much better if they had been played more subtle and in silence.
Boy Erased runs the risk of feeling too much like a Lifetime flick, but we’re so connected to Jared as a character that seeing him go through things makes his story all the more powerful. It’s unfortunate that a film like this has to exist, but because it does it’s one that brings its story to light in a truly impressive dramatic nature. Grade: A-