Boy Erased - 2018
Director(s): Joel Edgerton
Writer(s): Joel Edgerton (screenplay) / Garrard Conley (memoir)
Cinematography by: Eduard Grau
Editor(s): Jay Rabinowitz
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Troye Sivan and Britton Sear
Boy Erased is based on Garrard Conley's memoir of the same name. The film follows Jared (Hedges) a young teen from a small town in Arkansas struggling with his sexuality. He comes from a devoted Baptist household, his father (Crowe) is a preacher and his mother (Kidman), a proud southern woman that would never miss a day at church. Jared is forced to confess to his parents that he has feelings and desires towards other boys, and his father promptly signs him into a gay conversion therapy group hoping to get his son back into the grace of God. Once inside the group, run by Victor Skykes (Edgerton), Jared starts to struggle with his beliefs in God, and the hatred taught at the expense of finding a "cure.".
One aspect I appreciated the most about Edgerton's script was that it could've quickly fallen into a preachy tone or could've taken a heavy-handed approach, but he came across almost impartial. Showed the events for what they were. The counselors and the parents would've made for easy characters to depict as full-blown evil people, trying to remove the humanity out of this kid. However, they are shown to be, in their heads, loving and caring people guided by their beliefs, though blinded they are. They think and feel that they are doing the right thing. We see the struggle and the burden carried on the shoulders of his parents that love and support their son, but he is going against everything they were taught. The leader of the group shows that he cares, that he wants them to change and be a "normal" just like God intended. Not saying the script glosses over the hate and ignorance, it is clearly there and there are scenes very hard to stomach, but the character motivations are well established, and the actors execute them flawlessly.
That said the script does feel a bit undercooked; it could've used a bit of more time for the ideas to fully form. The messages do get through don't get me wrong, but they don't land as hard as I think they wanted them to land with the audience. Especially on the parent's relationship. We get two great scenes of resolution, but the conflict while always present, it is never fully explored.
As for Edgerton's direction, I get that he tried to stay out of his way, letting the story be the focal point and not his stylistic choices behind the camera, but it could've used a bit more flair. Not saying he doesn't showcase great eye for visuals. My favorite scene is when Jared confronts his parents and two ministers from the church. The scene takes place in his home, and the group is sitting at the table. The entire house is pitch black except for the one the table that has a light above it. This is a visual representation of how lost Jared feels, everything around him is shrouded in darkness, and his only choice, the only way he sees and out is through the option of gay conversion offered by this group, the only "light" inside the darkness. I loved that visual choice, but they are far and few in between, making the overall movie feel very straightforward and unsurprising, regarding the visuals.
Quick note: the score on its own is good. But when you pair the music with the story, it comes across forceful and intrusive. It's almost as if the score is screaming at me to “feel the emotions of the scene.”.
Hedges and Chalamet are vying for "actor of their generation" award, and while I prefer Chalamet at this point, Hedges filmography is nothing to sneeze at, and this performance was beautiful and heartbreaking. He showcased a wide range, being able to go from a subtle look of shame and frustration to the all-out outburst of rage and anger. Nicole Kidman is once again a sight for sore eyes, she embodied her southern persona, and her accent was perfect. Joel Edgerton brought a lot of humanity to what could've easily been the full-blown villain of the story and his struggle to help the kids is showcased through his body language. I was pleasantly surprised by Russell Crowe, been a while since the last time he flexed his acting muscles and his confrontation with his son was probably the best scene of the entire film.
Boy Erased is a straightforward drama, with a solid script, good direction, and an incredible cast. The main reason to watch this movie is the message and themes explored. While it does ultimately take a side, as it should, it shows us a look into a situation that has a lot more complexities outside of what is right and wrong inside religious beliefs. Knowing it comes from a memoir and that a teen had to live through it, and that there are millions of teens that have and are still going through it only adds the impact of the events depicted. It is definitely a movie to watch. An insight into a life I will never experience is why I love movies.
Boy Erased is currently playing in theaters. Worth a watch, maybe wait for it to hit Netflix.
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