We all have our own paths. For Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges), that path has always led back to the church. The son of a preacher man, Marshall (Russell Crowe), and wife, Nancy, (Nicole Kidman), there’s always been an unspoken pressure to live a certain way in the conservative South.As a young man, Jared’s homosexuality begins to make up a larger part of him, and he’s eventually outed after an incident during his freshman year in college.
Believing that his sexual preference can be cured, the Eamons send their son to the “Love in Action” gay conversion therapy assessment program led by Christian therapist Victor Skyes (Joel Edgerton). The methods are always verbally abusive, and sometimes, physically abusive. There’s no end date in sight for when Jared will be cleared to leave. To get released, he may simply have to play the part to return to civilization, and that might mean renouncing his family and everything he loves once he’s free.
After the exquisite and psychologically dark roller-coaster film that Edgerton made his directorial debut with in The Gift, it was a formality that he’d try his talents on something with the potential to score big in awards season. Enter Boy Erased, adapted from the 2016 memoir sharing the same name with names amended. Edgerton and his story mean well. Sadly, the sophomore effort qualifies as a step backwards as opposed to a continuous conversion of momentum obtained from his prior effort.
Direct comparisons aren’t ideal, but sometimes they’re too clear to not acknowledge. Boy Erased shares a lot in common with another recent movie that prominently features “Boy” in its title in Beautiful Boy. Both features showcase an up-and-coming actor with great performances already under their belts (Hedges, Timothée Chalamet), and are based around a memoir of a young man going through troubles. And, the two movies are exposed to the same problems. The flashbacks are nowhere near as disjointed as they are in Beautiful Boy. There’s a consistent pace and comprehension that exists in the duration of the run-time.
The biggest revelation as it pertains to films such as Boy Erased is the realization that maybe a memoir—of which that type of prose comes from specific memories and account(s)—isn’t the easiest thing to adapt to the silver screen. There’s only so much of the “suffer and reflect” cycle that can be done before the approach becomes stale. The intentions are noble, and for this particular viewer, nothing was known about conversion therapy. At the very least, Boy Erased is an eye-opening PSA to a significant problem that the end credits hit on.
Yet, for the emotional heart that Edgerton and company so clearly aim for, Boy Erased is rather forgettable—even bland at worst. Save for an uncomfortably visceral scene, there’s little from a stylistic standpoint that manages to leave a mark or provoke the desired response. What is left is a functional, but basic, presentation of real-life heavy substance. It’s shocking tedious for brief stretches.
That preceding sentence is rather surprising, considering the talent assembled in the cast. With that said, thespian talent can still lift a film up a notch or two from where it would be if none were present. Hedges, who has spoken on record before with his experiences in sexuality, is right at home in another challenging role that doesn’t necessarily call for showiness but subtlety and the type of pain that exists inward. Prior Oscar winners Kidman and Crowe (the former is undergoing quite the career renaissance since 2016) are always savvy hands. Edgerton straddles the line on cartoonish in a scene or two, though his character’s end revelation gives a bit of context for his performance.
Different movies, certainly, but on core ideas, a strong case can be made that the fictional Love, Simon comes closer to its goal of making an moving coming-of-age story than Boy Erased does. Heavy on information and facts, light on generating emotion.
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