Film Review – ‘Boy Erased’ (2019)

Delving into the controversial world of gay conversion therapy and based on the acclaimed memoir, writer/director/actor Joel Edgerton’s ‘Boy Erased’ is a moving, disturbing and important coming of age tale, that explores its incendiary topic with grace and honesty.

Every once in a while, a film comes along that sheds new light on a controversial issue and stimulates a fresh, more sensitive debate about its troubling subject matter. Joel Edgerton’s adaptation of Garrard Conley’s memoir ‘Boy Erased’ is the latest incarnation of this, a stirring examination of faith, repression and family.

It follows Jared (played by ‘Manchester by the Sea’ actor Lucas Hedges), the only son of a Baptist preacher (Russell Crowe) and his loving wife (Nicole Kidman). When he’s forced to attend a gay conversion therapy camp after being outed by his parents, his experiences there set Jared on a path to discover who he really is – and who he wants to be.

For such a big topic, it’s impressive that many of the film’s most powerful moments are the smallest ones – the subtle gestures, shifts in body language, attempts to ‘correct’ posture and the bruises that materialise overnight, scattered throughout the film like breadcrumbs hinting at other stories of hurt and desire lingering just out of sight.

It’s a gradually escalating sense of unease that hints at impending doom, which only heightens our concern for Jared. Hedges really shines as the young protagonist struggling to make sense of his sexuality and the dark new world he has been thrust into. The film highlights the layers of trauma that Jared is forced to endure on his path to self-acceptance, and Hedges fully embodies the depths of his emotional journey.

Also impressive is Nicole Kidman as his mother, a woman caught in a dilemma between her son and her husband. But the film’s most surprisingly emotive performance comes from Russell Crowe as Jared’s father. Utterly out of his depth and struggling to come to reconcile his faith with his family, Crowe’s final scene with Hedges is perhaps the film’s ultimate tearjerker.

It all leads to a conclusion that feels satisfying and well earned, offering a truthful resolution without flinching away from the reality of some of conversion therapy’s most devastating outcomes. Many of the best movie endings also hint at new beginnings for their characters, and Boy Erased is ultimately enjoyable because it offers a generous amount of hope in amongst the darkness.

Alex Straker

Drama | USA,2019 | 15 |8 February 2019 (UK) | Universal Pictures | Dir. Joel Edgerton | Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman, Lucas Hedges, Joel Edgerton, Joe Alwyn

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