Boy Erased (2018)
While promoting gay conversion therapy drama The Miseducation of Cameron Post, the film’s lead Chloe Grace Moretz made a somewhat controversial statement regarding a straight man making a film about gay subject matter. Her film, directed by a queer woman, is one of my favorites of the year, though some found it reminiscent of an after school special. Her criticisms were lobbed at fellow conversion therapy drama Boy Erased, the second film by actor Joel Edgerton (Loving, Midnight Special) starring Oscar season hopefuls Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, and Russell Crowe. Based on Garrard Conley’s memoir of his time in conversion therapy, Edgerton’s film is a collection of okay to good scenes that don’t add up to an emotionally compelling narrative.
Lucas Hedges, who has recently addressed his own non-heterosexuality, has been pinballing between innocence lost (Manchester by the Sea, Lady Bird) and hardass (Mid90s, Ben is Back) for his emerging adult career (aka he’s playing college freshman). As Jared Eamons, his role is primarily reactionary to the events stated about his path to conversion therapy. The son of a preacher (Crowe) and a dutiful preacher’s wife (Kidman), his outing spurred the adults to try to change their son by the grace of godly men tormenting the gay out of them. Hedges took subtlety further than warranted as the shock at his involvement came off more like disinterest. The examples in his gay life—an artist who provided chaste intimacy and an abuser adding to his guilt—wind up treated as recollections not seeking resolution but rather conjuring enough backstory to send him to the center for reparative therapy. Even given the showier opportunities with his father after the fact or his great escape from the center fell flat for me. Russell Crowe filled in the disapproving pastor trying to help his son in the wrong ways quite splendidly. The hellfire and brimstone are kept under control, and he allows the blindness to difference swing at the heart of American conservatism. His fellow Aussie Oscar winner Nicole Kidman steals the show as always. The wife stepping into line with her husband’s decisions unweaves with a tender portrait of motherly compassion usurping learned distaste. Much like in Lion, she has her stellar monologue of maternal wisdom that straightens out her son (with no pun intended).
Joel Edgerton as the unqualified, lead de-gayer handles his duties to pass along straightness with a headstrong, Elmer Gantry flair, but the collection of sin recollecting and Bible beating add up to little more than pinpoints in a troubled system. The film markets to a wider audience than many of its predecessors, but the sporadic pacing of Edgerton’s storytelling let nothing sink in with the relatively limited drama presented. A tender-hearted football player Cameron (a centerpiece of abuse played by a somber Britton Sear) dwarfs the random other cameos at the center, most notably singer Troye Sivan and director Xavier Dolan. The cast is a bit too busy and the pace too cluttered to purport genuine emotional relevance. Sivan, along with Sigur Ros’s Jónsi, provides an effective theme song with “Revelation” that adds a lovely touch to its portion of the film. The heartbreak and broken trust may have delivered more clearly with a more experienced hand and especially through a queer eye as the film doddles through facts rather than the lack of empathy and understanding in a broken system. There’s nothing about homosexuality that needs fixed, but there’s not quite enough fever behind the film to express the urgency for people to stop this damaging act.