Lucas Hedges stars as Jared Eamons, a gay teenager whose fundamental Christian parents force him to undergo aggressive gay conversion therapy at the hands of a ruthless “therapist”. It's a secretive, lock-in program whereby patients are put through brutal and dehumanising conditioning practices to beat the “gay” out of them. Needless to say it is a harrowing and emotionally charged film that is as confronting as it is enlightening.
Based on auto-biography of popular writer and LGBTI advocate Gerrard Conley, the film and its message feel timely, and perhaps more importantly than shedding light on such practices, it serves as a criticism of fundamental religiousness in general. Edgerton's script adheres to a conventional structure, telling Jared's story with candour and earnestness, navigating the trauma of living as a gay teenager amongst a god fearing community. Having not read the book itself I can only guess that the film mearly scratches the surface, but in doing so I am sure that the events depicted on screen collectively reflect the important bookmarks of the text. Having said that, I find it odd that Edgerton changed Conley's name to Jared Eamons when the book itself was entirely biographical, not to mention the fact that the film features the real life counterpart in the “where are they now” section of the end credits.
Edgerton's body of work as a writer and director is impressive, with his previous directorial effort, The Gift, being a masterclass in suspense, and his written work such as The Square and Felony highlighting his talent. BOY ERASED feels like a natural progression, with his style becoming more sensitive and subtle. He presents all of his characters (even the horrible ones) with humanity and context. And while some of these people are undeniably heinous, the film's thematic tone suggests a level of empathy, and serves more as a criticism of Christianity than it does the individuals.
The cast is top notch with Lucas Hedges chalking up another stellar performance. Following Manchester By The Sea, Ladybird and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, his resume is impressive and seasoned for an actors of just 21 years of age. This guy's future is bright and whatever he has lined up next is bound to impress. With a little luck he will navigate the industry carefully, sticking to credible performance driven roles.
The rest of the cast includes Edgerton as the merciless conversion therapist, Nicole Kidman as his devoted mother and Russell Crowe as his ultra conservative pastor father. Kidman and Crowe give weighty performances, both sharing an equal amount of depth. Each of their stories take alternative trajectories and observing how they manoeuvre their emotional range is impressive to watch. Adding to the Aussie domination of BOY ERASED is popular pop singer Troy Sivan as an unassuming therapy patient whose strategy of survival provides an important turning point in the narrative. He is very good and has a natural onscreen charisma.
The unfortunate reality of BOY ERASED is that only those aligned with its point of view are likely to see it. The actual viewers the film sets out to challenge are highly unlikely to give it the time of day, and won't want a bar of it. And so short of tricking them into the cinema and locking the doors, the film will reassure supporters of the LGBT plight while doing little to capture the attention of those who don't. Here's hoping that, at the very least, SOME of the cinephiles amongst the conservative demographic will stay the course and come away better educated on the issue.