Based on the memoir by Garrard Conley, Boy Erased is the newest film from Joel Edgerton. It is about the son of a Baptist preacher that is forced to participate in a gay conversion therapy program when he is outed to his parents.
This movie manages to be captivating and highly frustrating at the same time. Even though it is an interesting and has well-written characters, it seems to be quite short-sighted when it comes to evaluating the implications that these events have and almost manipulative in the way it handles them.
The film certainly shows how conversion therapy is bad and how the people who carry it out are twisted, but it skims over how these events affect the long-term psychology of those involved. There are a few scenes in which this is hinted at, although those didn’t have enough of a lasting impact on the storyline to be truly effective.
Additionally, there were a few scenes that lacked clarity. One of the scenes that potentially could have had emotional impact — a mock funeral for one of the participants in the therapy — does not resonate as it should because it is never fully explained. It ends up being simply another disgusting horror committed by bad people.
That being said, the story is a compelling portrait of the complexities of family relationships. Although the movie approaches the “therapists” as bad, emphasizing their lack of knowledge about the situation and context of the people they are “treating”, it doesn’t paint the protagonist’s parents in the same way. Instead, they are human and have arcs (albeit very different ones) just like the protagonist.
It was refreshing that this film was not as bleak and depressing as the marketing made it appear to be. There is some comedic relief, and some endearing moments that make the story even more compelling. However, the movie also doesn’t hold back on the harsher details of the story, presenting some of them in a gritty and true fashion.
The ensemble is absolutely wonderful, perhaps the best of the year so far. Lucas Hedges, Joel Edgerton, Russell Crowe, and Nicole Kidman all deliver extremely strong performances. Hedges does a great job of commanding the screen in his lead role. His delivery is impeccable, showing that he is only getting better with time. Crowe, Kidman, and Edgerton all complement him well, each having two or three great scenes with powerful monologues to which Hedges is able to react.
The execution is very strong, too. The cinematography and production design are both great. Some of the visuals are muted and cool, creating a sense of comfort, but those inside the conversion center are centered around bright shades of white, giving an institutional feel to the film that causes a feeling of entrapment. Additionally, the score is quite good, with some beautiful melodies throughout creating the tone.
Overall, Boy Erased is a pretty impressive movie. It’s compelling, well-acted, and well-made. That being said, had it dug a little deeper, it could have been even stronger.
Boy Erased is now playing in select theaters and expands November 16.