Director: Joel Edgerton
Cast: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Joel Edgerton, Joe Alwin, Xavier Dolan, Troye Sivan, Cherry Jones, Flea
Screenplay: Joel Edgerton
114 mins. Rated R for sexual content including an assault, some language and brief drug use.
Joel Edgerton (The Gift) just kind of came out of nowhere. Sure, he had been acting for several years, but I never would have placed him as a more-than-competent director and writer, but he did just that with his first film. Now, he seeks to follow-up The Gift with the true-life family drama, Boy Erased.
Boy Erased is the story of Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea, Mid90s), a college student who is having a crisis of faith. He has impure thoughts about men. His mother, Nancy (Nicole Kidman, Moulin Rouge!, TV’s Big Little Lies), and father, Marshall (Russell Crowe, Les Miserables, The Mummy), sign him up for a gay conversion therapy. His father is a Baptist preacher who will not allow Jared to live in his house or visit if he remains the way he is. Jared attends classes everyday with head therapist Victor Sykes (Edgerton), a firm believer in the process who pushes Jared and others to the extreme in his quest to make them “normal” heterosexual boys again. As time goes on, Lucas comes to the realization that he is who he is and “changing” is not an option.
Boy Erased takes a while before it really kicks into high gear. The first half of the film to me was a little lost in trying to find its footing. I’m not sure what the big problem is because I like the film’s structure of beginning in media res. The writing is fine but the slow build nature mixed with some pacing issues in editing likely created this problem.
That being said, when it does get going, the last half of this film is an absolute powerhouse. Hedges and Crowe are, in particular, revelatory. There is one scene in particular toward the end of the film that these two share that brought me to tears. The raw emotion of a father and son on two completely different wavelengths is something so heartbreaking.
Writer/Director/Supporting Actor Edgerton holds a capable lens to the proceedings and he tends to just let the performances do the heavy lifting. His work as Sykes in a little disturbing and very saddening. As I said before, I think his writing stumbles a bit at the beginning, but all in all, he is a talent worthy of watching.
Edgerton has a moral focus with the film and its presentation of this conversion therapy. There are a lot of horrific things happening here and it’s made all the more shocking with his choice to end the film with some follow-up on the characters but also some facts about conversion therapy that really hit home with me. These types of endings don’t always work, but Boy Erased is a film that definitely sticks the landing. It’s just sad that a film like this even had to be made, but conversion therapy is a very real and frightening thing for LGBTQ people, especially the young ones who are already going through so much in their adolescence.
Boy Erased struggles a bit out of the gate, but when it finds its footing, Joel Edgerton proves to be a force both behind and in front of the camera. He fills his films with impactful performances that elevate his own craft in the process. It’s not an easy film to view, even with a few peppered moments of levity, particularly from Jared’s mother, but it’s an incredible moving tale about the human spirit and one man’s journey to accept himself. See this movie as soon as you can.
-Kyle A. Goethe