It’s difficult to pinpoint what doesn’t quite work about Boy Erased. Written and directed and co-starring Joel Edgerton, it’s the dark, uncomfortable story of Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges), a young boy with overly religious parents who send him off to a conversion camp when he admits that he’s gay. Based on the true-story of Garrard Conley who wrote the book the movie is based on, the film tackles an urgent matter, is performed delicately and expertly, and is as harrowing as it is hopeful. And yet, there’s just something about it that feels a little unfinished.
Lucas Hedges is wonderful as the southern son of a preacher who begins to question his sexuality. Hedges has always exuded a palpable sensitivity and here his tightly-wound Jared is remarkable in his restraint. He is quietly withdrawn until he reaches a breaking point and then unleashes. There are so many uncomfortable yet amazing moments that Hedges owns like a seasoned veteran. As his parents, Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman are equally astounding. Crowe’s impassioned preacher is one of his best roles in recent memory, the way he struggles to maintain eye contact, the way he internalizes everything. Kidman, underneath an unfortunate wig and behind an unfortunate drawl, is always wonderful as a mother slowly coming to terms with the at-odds love for both her son and her church. Edgerton’s restrained but bombastic counselor is rightfully vile. And there are brief but enjoyable supporting turns from Troye Sivan, Britton Sear, Xavier Dolan, and, surprisingly, Flea.
The movie builds to great confrontation and it’s really a spotlight on how great the movie could’ve been. It’s fine, really, with great performances, and a moving script, but with such awful circumstances and such wonderful actors, it feels like the movie should end with an urge to jump out of your seat and clap versus turning to your neighbor and commenting “that was pretty good.” See it for Hedges, Crowe and Kidman, but don’t expect more than a really well-done afterschool special.
My Grade – B