Boy Erased is the story of finding your voice in a chorus of oppression. Written and directed by Oscar winner Joel Edgerton and starring Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe, Boy Erased is now in theaters
“People fear what they don’t understand and hate what they can’t conquer” ~ Andrew Smith
From its very first trailer to the festival reactions out of Telluride and Toronto, I was hooked on Joel Edgeron’s Boy Erased, which expands to additional markets this weekend following a very successful limited release last weekend.
Edgerton, who also adapted the screenplay from Garrard Conley’s memoir by the same name, features a strong cast including Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe. Hedges plays Jared Eamons, a successful student who is poised to take over the dealership his pastor father owns. He has a girlfriend and attends church, everything a teenager is expected to have. Upon his graduation from high school, he goes off to college.
It is at college where he begins to discover his sexual identity. After an incident with another student, the tightly knit Southern family decides it is best that he undergo gay therapy conversion, which Jared reluctantly agrees to.
Russell Crowe as Marshall Eamons, a Baptist pastor is a very prideful man, and why shouldn’t he be? He has a beautiful wife, he is a successful businessperson and he has a talented, young son. Edgerton is firing on all cylinders when the revelation is made that Jared is gay. Crowe, who had a decorum about him is suddenly broken, as much as the man is broken. Hedges, who is also known for giving reserved performances is very vocal as the two men explode at one another. Ms. Kidman, who plays the obedient wife remains in the background during this argument, but is the one who eventually takes Jared to the conversion clinic.
The scenes and the people who populate the clinic and the second act reminded me of the asylum in Milos Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Joel Edgerton is Victor Sykes, the lead therapist. He is a self-assured man, another preacher who believed that he could change the world. Xavier Dolan plays Jon, someone who we know has been through the system numerous times, but keeps coming back. Musician – actor Troye Sivan is Gary, someone we know is in the same situation as Jared. Aiding Victor are Flea as Brandon and David Joseph Craig as Michael. Brandon and Michael are as in-your-face as you can get, giving a superior power to Sykes.
Jared is willing to go along with the program, but as his time at the clinic progresses, we see a quiet defiance building up. Edgerton chooses to flash back to earlier scenes to describe some of the details of Jared’s life prior to his outing. But, it is the constant beratement by Sykes and his team on the other attendees that really draws our attention, especially that of Cameron (Britton Sear). Cameron is a quiet, shy young man. We are acutely aware of his self-image issues which are not helped by the constant verbal and physical attacks he endures by Brandon, Michael and even Sykes. Cameron shares the same story as Jared: that of a prideful father who fears what he can’t change.
There is a point where, throughout all of this, Nancy (Nicole Kidman) realizes what’s happening in the clinic and stands up for her son, who in the meantime, has finally begun to find the courage to stand up to one father figure, that of Sykes.
As I said at the beginning, the film hooked me: Boy Erased is not my story. I was lucky that I have supportive parents. I’ve heard plenty of similar stories as Gerrard’s. While the goings on within the clinic are believable, there’s a feeling that this particular story doesn’t earn its payoff, that the religious aspect really cancels out the gay aspect of the story.
There is, however, a level of confidence in Edgerton’s storytelling abilities, though they are stronger when he is behind the camera solely. His performance is as strong as Hedges’s, but the story and the acting flow much better when he is not in front of the camera. The best thing to come out of this movie is that Jared finally stands up to his oppressor, that he has the courage to find his voice.
It is for this reason alone, that Boy Erased stands proudly among next to its contemporaries.
Now in theaters, Boy Erased is rated R.