Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges), the son of a Baptist preacher (Russell Crowe), is forced to participate in a church-supported gay conversion therapy program after his mother (Nicole Kidman) and father out him.
Joel Edgerton, known for such films as ‘Midnight Special’, ‘Loving’ and ‘The Great Gatsby’, continues to produce work that has audiences sitting up and paying attention. After his breakout horror film ‘The Gift’, ‘Boy Erased’ is only the second feature Edgerton has directed. The screenplay (based on Garrard Conley’s memoir of the same name) is also by Edgerton, and he plays the movie’s chilling chief therapist Victor Sykes. Sykes’ intentions, as with Jared’s parents and the congregation’s, appear so genuine that the nature of what they’re forcing Jared into is all the more sinister.
Watching ‘Boy Erased’, one feels deeply moved by the plight of its young men and women. All the actors here, from the recognisable like musician Troye Sivan, Joe Alwyn (‘Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk’) and Xavier Dolan (‘Bad Time at the El Royale’), to newcomers like Britton Sear, deserve commendation. In the lead role, Lucas Hedges is simply incredible. As with ‘Manchester By the Sea’ (for which he earned an Oscar nomination) and ‘Lady Bird’, Hedges is so natural, convincing and genuine that you forget he’s acting. He makes the humanity of his characters so readily accessible that you want to watch him lead movies again and again.
Your heart breaks for the characters watching the beautiful performances and the gruelling nature of the conversion program. One is baffled and frustrated not only by the psychological torment and lack of reason to it but also by the physical training involved. The cruelty of pushing these young adults far beyond their physical abilities is infuriating in its injustice and absence of necessity (The Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ bassist Flea, by the way, plays one of the therapists, and goes impressively dark and menacing for the role). The abuses perpetuated by the system get increasingly worse- not necessarily in their physical violence but emotional violence. Eventually, there are fatal consequences that you know are coming but desperately hope won’t. To say the film takes you on an emotional rollercoaster is an understatement.
The only downside to ‘Boy Erased’ is the performances of Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe. Their characters are not only the least interesting of the bunch; they’re also twee. Arguably, that’s the nature of the characters as written, but one feels like there’s enough in the movie without needing to hammer home the message so obviously. In any case, ‘Boy Erased’ is one of the most commanding and important films of the year so far.