Entertainment » Movies

Boy Erased

by Frank J. Avella
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Oct 25, 2018
'Boy Erased'
'Boy Erased'  

Joel Edgerton's "Boy Erased" lands with some controversy already dogging it about whether a heterosexual writer/director should be making a film in which the central character is gay.

Most of this social media blather-lather was whipped up by the star of another film about gay conversion therapy, who was mostly complaining that her film had much more difficulty getting made and distributed because it didn't have movie stars or a diverse cast, but did have a bisexual woman helming it. "Queer movies should be told through a queer lens and created by queer people," she declared. Ironically, the female actor answers questions about her own sexuality with soundbites like, "I don't see myself as a homosexual. I don't see myself as anything," while the male actor in "Boy Erased" recently came out as "not totally straight." Savvy deflections or truisms? Who can tell? Should any of it matter? It does become tricky when the one tries to discredit the other. Talk about attacking people on your own side for no smart reason.

What should matter most is the quality of the film.

Desiree Akhavan's "The Miseducation of Cameron Post," based on the novel by Emily M. Danforth, was a pretty stirring look at gay conversion therapy, owing a great debt to "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," but that film suffered from limited character development and a far-too-abrupt ending. So stop throwing stones, Chloƫ Grace Moretz! Your film was far from perfect.

Alas, "Boy Erased," is not the achievement it should have been either. Oh, it has its powerful moments, is intermittently absorbing and is certainly a film to be admired and appreciated. But in the end it feels too lofty and self-important and the stakes never feel high enough. In addition - and unlike, "Cameron Post" - it is pretty humorless, establishing a somber tone from the get go and never really letting up.

There are two major reasons to see "Boy Erased": Lucas Hedges and Nicole Kidman. More on that in a moment.

Based on the memoir by Garrard Conley, the film centers on Jared (Hedges), a 19-year-old Arkansas student whose parents insist he attend daily gay conversion therapy sessions after they confront him and he admits to having thoughts about other guys.

Jared's dad (Russell Crowe) is a Baptist minister and his mom (Nicole Kidman) pretty much falls in line with what the head of the house decides without giving it enough thought herself.

At the cult-like center, Jared is put through ridiculous exercises, via the God-fearing staff, that attempt to make boys more masculine and the girls more feminine. These exercises are led by by the relentless Victor (Edgerton). What Jared isn't told is that if the initial therapy doesn't work, he may need to move in for more intense treatment.

The film falters with the portrayal of all the staff as either cartoons or villains. And the methods used to de-gay these teens come off as silly and outrageous to any sane person watching (although it's quite possible the methods are actually used). We also know very little about the other teens and their struggles (Troye Silvan is allowed one moving moment). Oh and I was waiting for the prerequisite suicide of one of the members and guess what...?

"Boy Erased" works best when we are privy to the private feelings and thoughts of the conflicted teen. Hedges is an extraordinary young talent. At 21, he has made fantastic project choices to date receiving a deserved Oscar nomination for "Manchester By the Sea," two years ago, and killing it in smaller roles in both "Lady Bird" and "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" last year. I also saw him fully embody a violent teen onstage in the off Broadway play, "Yen." Here he pushes himself even further, transcending the limited script and delivering an often subtle but always mesmerizing turn, allowing us inside access into the heart and mind of this truly conflicted teen that just wants to be 'normal' and gain the approval of his stern father.

Kidman is remarkable, especially in later scenes in the film when her mother instincts kick in and she's allowed to bump up the nuance to her otherwise bland character. Kidman and Hedges have a true and unmistakable chemistry as mother and son that transcends what's on the page.

The film does ask some important questions about the selfishness of parents who think more about themselves than their own children as well as religious figures that take it upon themselves to play God. It also wonders whether one can reconcile themselves to accept who they are and still practice certain extreme faiths (although that could have been delved into more).

Ms. Moretz's comments did echo (because you can never unread something) as the credits rolled and I realized that Jared's sexuality was basically muted. Sure, we were told he was attracted to guys and we see him almost experimenting with a male art student, but he is never given a tangible scene of sensuality with a boy, something palpable. It could be argued that in Jared's real early story he may not have had such encounters but when the only other intimate scene involves a fairly graphic rape by his best friend, it is off-putting. I wondered had a gay writer/director made "Boy Erased," if that vital exploration might have taken place possibly elevating the film to a level above PSA for parents.

But perhaps simply getting the message out is enough since, as the end scroll tells us, 700,000 young people have been forced to undergo such misguided treatments.

Boy Erased

Jared Eamons, the son of a small-town Baptist pastor, must overcome the fallout after being outed as gay to his parents. His father and mother struggle to reconcile their love for their son with their beliefs. Fearing a loss of family, friends and community, Jared is pressured into attending a conversion therapy program. While there, Jared comes into conflict with its leader and begins his journey to finding his own voice and accepting his true self.


Runtime :: 115 mins
Release Date :: Nov 16, 2018
Language :: Silent
Country :: United States

Frank J. Avella is a film and theatre journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He is also a proud Dramatists Guild member and a recipient of a 2018 Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship. He was awarded a 2015 Fellowship Award from the NJ State Council on the Arts, the 2016 Helene Wurlitzer Residency Grant and the Chesley/Bumbalo Foundation Playwright Award for his play Consent, which was also a 2012 semifinalist for the O'Neill. His play, Vatican Falls, took part in the 2017 Planet Connections Festivity and Frank was nominated for Outstanding Playwriting. Lured was a semifinalist for the 2018 O'Neill and received a 2018 Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation Grant. Lured will premiere in 2018 in NYC and 2019 in Rome, Italy. LuredThePlay.com

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