Calling “Boy Erased” an emotional or powerful film doesn’t do it justice. Actor, writer, director and producer Joel Edgerton (“The Gift,” “Loving”) delivers the type of film that can permanently change lives. “Boy Erased” takes a devastating look at conversion therapy as a “cure” for homosexuality. It’s a hard film to watch, but the remarkable performances from Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, and Russell Crowe allow the audience to feel a cacophony of emotions.
“Boy Erased” is an important film that’s bigger than the accolades it will likely compete for. It’s a learning tree for those in similar situations, but especially parents like the ones portrayed in this story. Oscar-nominated Lucas Hedges is poised for the kind of year Timotheé Chalamet had last year. Hedges has three films debuting this fall, two of them likely to put the “Manchester By the Sea” star into the best actor race.
“Our family is so normal,” Nancy Eamons (Kidman) says when her son Jared (Hedges) asks for help completing a family tree survey about sinful behavior. At his first semester in college, Jared the basketball playing, fun loving, son of a preacher, is sexually assaulted by a close friend. Privately dealing with his own sexual identity, he is outed to his conservative and religious parents who force him into The Refuge Program. Psychological stress is used in this program as “treatment” by staff who also claim to have been converted but have no clinical accreditation. “Fake it until you make it,” one of the patients advises Jared. The emotionally tormented Jared must decide what’s more important, his own individuality and happiness or pleasing his parents.
“Boy Erased” examines the difficulty of teenagers torn between sexual identity and family, personality and religion. Jared Eamons is based off a real person but is a cinematic composite of so many others put unwillingly into similar situations. The filmmakers and Kidman (by her own admission at the Telluride Film Festival) chose to make this movie to highlight the irreparable damage of conversation therapy centers. Hedges, who admits to dealing with his own sexuality through his art, delivers such a delicate performance as Jared that it allows the audience to feel a portion of what his predicament must feel like. Kidman (“Lion”), another award-worthy supporting performance, is the character that goes through the biggest transformation. She represents the voice of reason, exhibiting the type of understanding we need more of.
Pop star Troye Sivan plays a small role in the film, however it’s his musical contribution that might land the LGBTQ star a nomination (alongside Lady Gaga) in this year’s best song category. His original work titled “Revelation” is used both in the film and over the credits. It’s one of the most beautiful and tender original songs I’ve ever heard. The structure of the film uses frequent flashbacks as Jared relives “Moral Mistakes” in his mind for us to witness. It’s the relationship with his father, Oscar winner Russell Crowe, that ends up as the emotional force behind the story. Jared finally tells his father it’s the father that must change, and what a shame it would be if he couldn’t. “Boy Erased” reaches high, and the importance of the material taxes Edgerton’s skills as a director. Thanks to the dedicated and heartfelt performances, combined with the significance of the subject matter, “Boy Erased” is one of the must-see films of 2018.
Final Thought: Edgerton’s sophomore effort behind the camera is an emotional triumph and an acting showcase.