Boy Erased

 

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Joel Edgerton’s drama of gay conversion therapy should be wrenching. Instead, it’s an elegant, polite meditation that doesn’t entirely convince.

   

Boy Erased

A unsuitable case for treatment: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe 

 

Following his directorial debut with the effective genre thriller The Gift (2015), Joel Edgerton now turns his attention to the weightier subject of gay conversion therapy. In the US, there are still 36 states that allow conversion therapy to be practiced on minors, which is staggering in what we now consider to be a far more liberal age. Boy Erased is the very personal story of Jared Eamons, a loosely fictionalised version of Garrard Conley, on whose memoir Edgerton has based his screenplay. Jared is the 18-year-old son of a Baptist preacher (Russell Crowe) who, after he is raped by a fellow student, is signed up by his father to a course of hard-line religious treatment.

 

If not as daunting as the centre depicted in Desiree Akhavan's The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which was set in 1993, this is still a frightening place. Edgerton plays against the melodrama of his subject and shoots the film in natural light, which gives it an emotional shadow as in the chiaroscuro of the seventeenth century masters. More importantly, he has cast Lucas Hedges as Jared, the young actor known for his sensitive, interior performances in Manchester by the Sea, Lady Bird and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. He is certainly the best thing about the film, although as Jared’s chief therapist at the conversion centre, Edgerton himself hands in a persuasive portrayal of dedicated fanaticism. As Jared’s mother, Nicole Kidman is just too famous a face to make Mrs Eamons a credible maternal foil, and her scenes with Hedges lack parental chemistry. It’s hard to believe that she really is the young man’s mother.

 

At times, Edgerton’s direction is a little too self-conscious (as was Akhavan's on Cameron Post), which is at odds with his accomplished screenplay. Nonetheless, he serves his actors well, providing Russell Crowe with a convincing pulpit from which to generate his instinctive bigotry, a prejudice at odds with his genuine humanity. It is a testament to the actor’s skill that he almost makes us feel sorry for him.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Joel Edgerton, Joe Alwyn, Xavier Dolan, Troye Sivan, Cherry Jones, Flea, Madelyn Cline, Jesse LaTourette, Britton Sear.

 

Dir Joel Edgerton, Pro Kerry Kohansky Roberts, Steve Golin and Joel Edgerton, Screenplay Joel Edgerton, Ph Eduard Grau, Pro Des Chad Keith, Ed Jay Rabinowitz, Music Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans, Costumes Trish Summerville.

 

Perfect World Pictures/Anonymous Content/Blue-Tongue Films-Universal Pictures.

115 mins. USA/Australia. 2018. Rel: 8 February 2019. Cert. 15.