Director: Joel Edgerton
Screenplay: Joel Edgerton
Starring: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Joel Edgerton, Joe Alwyn, Xavier Dolan, Troye Sivan
Runtime: 114 Minutes
Here we have the second feature film in the space of a year to cover the troubling reality of conversion therapy in the contemporary United States. Whereas The Miseducation of Cameron Post used its setting as more of a platform to explore its characters and coming-of-age narrative, Boy Erased is more rigidly adhering to the reality of the situation and a more objective representation of how these centres and the people who run them weaponize individual insecurities and exterior factors and bodies as a means of fulfilling their needs. Based on the 2016 memoir by Garrard Conley, it follows the son (Lucas Hedges) of Baptist parents (Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe) who is forced to take part in a gay conversion therapy program.
Coming off the back of The Gift, one of the great unexpected surprises of 2015, writer and director Joel Edgerton pairs down his approach for something more conventional. But his attention paid to period detail is interesting in that even though this is set in the early 00s, it doesn’t dwell on the aesthetic detail and feels quite unbound by its temporal status. While his general blocking, lighting and staging of scenes has the ache of that plain yet gossamer and ethereal pallet to the large hollow halls of the conversion centre parading as a place of worship
What works less well is the manner of the storytelling itself. Weirdly structured with flashbacks to events before his incarceration began that can run a little too long and end up taking you out of the central conflict, and an otherwise hissable performance from a stern-faced Edgerton as Chief therapist Victor Sykes ends up feeling lost in the mix.
As such, the film feels bloated in length as well as in conceit, despite Edgerton’s assertions that he hopes that the film is “redundant as soon as possible”, it can’t escape the thought that this is his gambit for a more serious-minded piece of award tempting drama.
Fortunately, the performances do pick up a lot of the slack. Hedges really is as good as people remember him from Manchester by the Sea, with all the adolescent frustration and innocence that comes with it. Kidman’s performance is very well-judged, coming in the midst of what can only be described as a kind of renaissance moment for her as she flexes her range in a multitude of different projects.
Interestingly, its Crowe that comes off strongest of all in a role the requires a great deal of nuance and emotional complexity as the public figure with a lot to lose personally in the eyes of his clergy. Even in his limited number of scenes, Crowe is dynamite here and charts the journey of his character into something more accepting remarkably well – especially in the film’s final scene.
Boy Erased is a comedown after Edgerton’s riveting debut, and certainly makes Cameron Post looks like the stronger and more identifiably unique of the two, but it’s elevated by some strong and committed performances – especially from Crowe – and has its heart and mind in the right place as a reminder of the ill’s still present in American society.