Boy Erased (2018)
Directed by: Joel Edgerton
Premise: Based on the memoir by Garrard Conley. The homosexual son (Lucas Hedges) of a Baptist minister is sent to gay conversion therapy.
What Works: Boy Erased is at its best when the movie focuses on the family relationships. This is the most compelling aspect of the film and the actors run with the material and deliver exceptional performances. Boy Erased is led by Lucas Hedges as the young man who comes to terms with his homosexuality. Hedge’s character is self-aware of his desires but he cannot admit it for fear of losing his family and his community. Hedges and the filmmakers make that point in a way that is subtle but also completely clear; Boy Erased communicates a lot through the careful emphasis on what is unsaid and the details of the actors’ performances. The stakes for Hedges’ character are quite high but the filmmakers trust the audience to figure that out without getting maudlin. Boy Erased doesn’t have any didactic moments in it. That restraint is especially evident in the performances by Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman as the minister-father and his wife. Crowe’s character does not approve of homosexuality but the actor and the filmmakers have an appropriate level of empathy for him. The father is not a mindless, Bible-pounding caricature but a man who loves his son but also has a specific understanding of right and wrong. The movie is not on the minister’s side but it does portray him credibly. The family tension is further complicated by the mother played by Nicole Kidman. She observes her son during his time in gay conversion therapy and she is caught in between solidarity with her husband and concern for her boy. We can see the tension building underneath her performance and Kidman feels authentic. A large portion of Boy Erased takes place within the confines of a gay conversion therapy center and the movie’s exposé of this program—which numerous mental health organizations have come out against—is appropriately upsetting. Here too, the filmmakers show some restraint. Many of the events play out matter-of-factly but the action is framed and edited in a way that picks up on the subtle details of the performances, especially the young characters being told to hate their own sexuality. We can see what this program is doing to them without the filmmakers spelling it out for us.
What Doesn’t: Boy Erased is split between the family drama and the portrait of gay conversion therapy. Unfortunately, the film short shrifts each portion of its story. The domestic drama builds to a crisis that threatens to fracture the family but then the film jumps ahead in time. Boy Erased skips over the most potentially interesting part of the family storyline and the film rushes into its conclusion. The depiction of gay conversion therapy only touches the surface. As bad as it gets, the film implies that a whole lot worse is happening in adjacent buildings where young gay people are essentially held prisoner but the filmmakers never go there. Although Boy Erased is based on a memoir, the story has been so fictionalized that taking the additional creative license would have been warranted.
Bottom Line: Boy Erased
suffers from some narrative flaws but the performances are terrific
and the film makes its point about gay conversion therapy in a way that
is accessible but not didactic.
In his sophomore directorial effort, Joel Edgerton continues to prove he’s a skilled filmmaker with an instinct for capturing the details of his actors’ performances.
Episode: #727 (December 2, 2018)