02 February 2019 (released)
03 February 2019
Boy Erased is written and directed by Joel Edgerton and adapted from the autobiography of the same name by Garrard Conley. At the centre of the film, we have Jared played by Lucas Hedges, a nineteen-year-old college student being forced into homosexual conversion therapy by his parents. Russell Crowe plays Jared’s father, a Christian preacher who gives Jared the ultimatum of being disowned or partaking in the dubious conversion therapy. As Jared’s mother we have Nicole Kidman, she is a little more sympathetic than her husband and you really get the sense that she is just as confused as her son. As soon as Jared arrives at the conversion centre you can tell there is something wrong. The drab colour palette, threatening staff and suggestive framing all invoke that the place is first and foremost a prison.
Jared’s choice forms the central conflict of the film, does he go with his heart and what he knows to be right or trust the people closest to him that he assumes want the best for him. His struggle as a Christian boy trying to navigate life whilst his feelings contradict everything he believes is really brought forth within the screenplay and Hedges' performance, he is able to communicate a whole range of emotions with just the glance of an eye. His interactions with Nicole Kidman were some of the most intimate the film had to offer but I was left underwhelmed, their relationship and especially Kidman’s character felt unexplored until the end and by then it was too late. The music by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans did a good job of communicating the strained emotion of the story, the wailing orchestral strings being a highlight. Some generic songs injected into the soundtrack felt unnecessary but still served the purpose of telling us how Jared is feeling... if a little ham-fisted.
As with ‘The Gift’, his previous film, Edgerton stars as the adversary of the film, this time the domineering Viktor Sykes. Edgerton gives an intimidating performance but the lack of depth to Sykes in the script left me wanting more. In the end credits they establish that Viktor left the centre in 2008 and now lives with his husband but I felt the film never alluded to this repressed side to his character, instead he feels very one dimensional. I can’t help but think that if Edgerton had focused purely on directing, the film would have been stronger for it with more attention placed on characterisation of the supporting cast, not just Jared. The supporting cast has some notable names like Canadian director Xavier Dolan and YouTube star Troye Sivan, both openly gay men who gave good performances no doubt influenced by their own experiences. Unfortunately, they felt wasted within the story, given absolutely nothing to do with very minor characterisation.
The main issue the film suffers with is its eagerness to stay with Jared, though it is his story the lack of personal and intimate moments from the other characters limits the scope of emotion within the film. I understand that the film is based on the memoirs of Gerrard Conley and likely told exclusively from his point of view. In that regard the film succeeds in telling his story however to be a more well-rounded film with depth to the characters, especially Sykes and Jared’s parents would have really enhanced the story. For example, the poster depicts Kidman and Crowe prominently facing away from their son and each other, but their fracturing as a couple is never seen except when minimally referenced to. Their motivations are explained to Jared and the audience at the end of the film and I think would have been better handled if somehow told visually and throughout the film rather than at the end.
The film was shot by Cinematographer Eduard Grau, with some nice moments of visual storytelling in the framing and lighting of shots. The muted colours of the conversion centre contrast with the various flashbacks and serves to orient us with the emotional state Jared and the other boys are in. One specific flashback, where Jared meets a young artist felt a little rushed as it’s never established how long the two young men have known each other, they seem to already have a strong intimate bond after two minutes of screen time. The dialogue felt at its most clunky in this scene, but it is excusable as for the most part the film is well written, with the dialogue and story weaved together confidently.
The film highlights the desperation of many Christians to relinquish homosexual thoughts that they will use the religion as a tool of violence, twisting the word of God to serve their own agendas. The presence of the giant American flag looming over the prison-like church hit very close to home in the climax of the film and was a great reminder of our proximity to issues like the ones portrayed in the film, even to this day.
Boy Erased is a decent film, let down is in its screenplay and characterisation; though an engaging story, it was hard to get into the shoes of the supporting cast at times to understand their decisions. The fact the film is based on a true story is its saving grace and adds emotional resonance, accentuating the ongoing problems surrounding sexuality within the world of religion to this day. The film is a strong effort from Joel Edgerton, full of tender moments and held together by solid performances all around, especially Lucas Hedges and Russell Crowe.