“Boy Erased,” is the Joel Edgerton adaptation of Garrard Conley’s 2016 novel of the same name. This memoir recounts the harrowing experience of the renamed Jared Eamons (played by Lucas Hedges); who must repress his sexual awakenings to toe the line as the son of his town’s Baptist Preacher (played by Russell Crowe). In the fallout of a traumatic college assault, his family’s scrutiny lands squarely on his sexual preference and the resulting counsel land him in conversion therapy.
Earlier this year I wrote that Desiree Akhavan's "The Miseducation of Cameron Post" is unflinching and fair with the frightening consequences of the laughable quest for spaces to "pray the gay away…" If you’re looking for a work that explores the dark vision of being locked up into this “therapy” with the keys thrown away, “Post” is your movie. Akhavan wants to demonstrate perverse manipulation that underscores the civility of this hokey practice.
In contrast to Akhavan, Edgerton’s main resonance with the source material is that Conley’s experience - without spoiling the movie - demonstrates that there’s redemption to be found down the road if you’re willing to try. Edgerton doesn’t ever allow the audiences to feel like Jarrad’s parents’ (really his father’s) decision subjects him to irrevocable trauma. Edgerton frames Conley’s experience at the beginning of this experience. Jarrad is in a state of diagnosis, and the panic sets in when nothing he does to “cure” himself seems to steer him toward release. When Edgerton can formally express the character’s fear of coming out, particularly in the college assault and surrounding fallout; you see the most affective, tension inducing moments in the film. When he’s immersed in the therapy, and wears both hats as performer and director, the objective distance is dull.
Lucas Hedges frames Jarrad in a turbulent state where his emotions and physiology contend with the morality associated with his Baptist beliefs. Hedges performances in “Manchester by the Sea” (steadfast and immovable, with a splash of petulant) and “Lady Bird” (desperate for conformity to the point of crippling vulnerability) feel like the poles between his performance as Jarrad. Russell Crowe’s performance in Boy Erased is one of understated brilliance, harnessing the actor’s presence in a way usually reserved for his towering protagonists in films such as The Insider and A Beautiful Mind. He’s painting a pathway. Nicole Kidman overcomes yet another awful wig starring in an Australian Awards contender to deliver a beautifully delicate tale of concern and awakening. We watch her wrestle between reflexive subservience as a housewife and “woman behind her man” preacher’s wife and her maternal instincts engage once she witnesses the institutional hypocrisy.
For the film’s positives, there are definitely some elements that feel drastically underserved. The inclusion of Canadian “enfant terrible” Xavier Dolan, a phenome director in his own right, playing fellow ‘inmate’ Jon is - at best - lip service. He spends his time in the film scowling on the fringes and reacting to Jared’s inquisition with frustration. Young talent time continued with pop superstar Troye Sivan appearing in his first major motion picture as Gary. Sivan, who does a serviceable job in his very limited role, was disruptive in the audience that I saw the film with. Considering that Sivan contributes to the film with the terrific and melancholy tune ‘Revelation,’ his cameo carries the same reflexive cackles that an Elliott Smith cameo would have created in “Good Will Hunting.”
“Boy Erased” features great performances and tells an essential story; which makes it all the more conflicting that it leaves you pretty vacant.
BLAKE HOWARD IS A FILM CRITIC & THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF/CO-FOUNDER OF AUSTRALIAN FILM BLOG GRAFFITI WITH PUNCTUATION . BLAKE IS THE HOST OF THE ONE HEAT MINUTE PODCAST. BLAKE IS ALSO A MEMBER OF THE PRESTIGIOUS ONLINE FILM CRITIC SOCIETY (AND A MEMBER OF THE GOVERNING COMMITTEE), IS A CO-HOST OF GAGGLE OF GEEKS ON SYDNEY'S 2SER COMMUNITY RADIO, A COLUMNIST AT THE AUSTRALIAN ONLINE INSTITUTION DARK HORIZONS AND SWAYS THE TOMATO METER WITH ROTTEN TOMATOES APPROVED REVIEWS.