Boy Erased movie review: Joel Edgerton's Oscar-bait drama handles theme of gay conversion therapy with nuance
Boy Erased makes for a satisfying watch, not least because gay conversion therapy is still practised in several American states.
After directing The Gift in 2015, Joel Edgerton adapts, directs and acts in his Oscar-bait drama, Boy Erased, on the theme of gay conversion therapy.
Adapted for the screen from a memoir of the same name by Garrard Conley, Boy Erased is the touching coming of age story of teenager Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges). Jared is the son of god-fearing parents – his dad Marshall (Russell Crowe), a pastor, and his dutiful mother, Nancy (Nicole Kidman).
While at college, Eamons is outed to his parents. As one would expect, they are in denial and unsympathetic of his feelings towards men. Enlisting the advice of community seniors, Eamons is shunted off to a gay conversion therapy programme to repent for his sins and to "get cured".
Edgerton plays Victor Sykes, the chief therapist at the centre where Jared and a group of men and women of varying ages are taken through steps to repent for their moral degradation, adopt masculine gestures and return to their faith.
Edgerton deftly balances Nancy’s angst with Jared’s ordeal at being subjected to a narrow-minded blame-game therapy. Unable to share a really traumatic experience with his parents, Jared finds expression and release through his writing and a reliving of moments that brought him to this point.
The cast includes Joe Alwyn as Jared’s college friend Henry, Xavier Dolan and Britton Spear as two of the other boys undergoing therapy and fighting their own internal battles. Fellow gay ‘patient’ Gary (Troye Sivan) advises Jared to “fake it till you make it” in order to get released from the programme. Another is unable to tolerate the humiliation, confusion and living of a lie.
Kidman, Crowed and Hedges embrace their parts with gentle intensity with Edgerton handles the story with tenderness while also firmly decimating the inhuman conversion therapy programme. The locations and sets are bland, unimpressive, which perhaps fits the impression of small town America.
At times it feels like Hedges is underplaying Jared. Barring a scene or two of eruption, he remains a largely muted character who finds his mojo rather late in the movie. Yet, Boy Erased makes for a satisfying watch, not least because gay conversion therapy is still practised in several American states.
(Editor's note: This review was first published after the Indian premiere of Boy Erased at the Jio MAMI 20th Mumbai Film Festival.)
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