Society has come a long way in terms of LGBT+ rights and acceptance. Gay marriage is now legal in Australia, and more and more young people feel comfortable coming out. Yet, homophobia is still prevalent, a fact underscored in Joel Edgerton‘s sophomore directorial effort.
Based on Garrard Conley’s memoir of the same name, Boy Erased centres on 19-year-old Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges), the son of devout Baptists, Marshall (Russell Crowe) and Nancy Eamons (Nicole Kidman). After being outed to his parents, he’s sent to Love in Action, a gay conversion centre with head therapist Victor Sykes (played by Edgerton), in an effort to change his sexuality.
The film mimics the book’s non-linear structure by switching between the past and the present. This can be jarring at first for viewers, but is used to great effect to show why Jared feels the way he does in pivotal moments. This is coupled with how beautifully shot the scenes are: warm tones for Jared’s idyllic adolescent past, juxtaposed by the cold, clinical look of the Love in Action compound.
The more therapy sessions Jared attends, the more he questions his identity and his place in the world. Several times the character is shot from behind: his current identity being obscured, who he will become is not yet known. Hedges’ performance is nuanced without having to resort to stereotypes, the young actor demonstrating once again why he’s one of the best of his generation. It’s the script, however, that lets Hedges down.
Though Edgerton – who also wrote the screenplay, produced the film, and acted in it – has wisely chosen not to sensationalise the events depicted, it also feels a little tame considering the subject matter. Jared wrestles with his faith, which leads to a memorable bout of anger stemming from an encounter with a bus shelter ad. But this conflict is never elaborated, neither is Marshall’s status as a preacher brought up in a more meaningful way. Whether this was done to not offend religious conservatives, or deliberately downplayed in an attempt to get as many as possible to see the movie is hard to say. Either way, it leaves the film without some of the bite required to really make an impact.
While a majority of the film is spent inside Jared’s head, from his point of view, it’s Nicole Kidman’s depiction of Nancy that forms the heart. From the hope she feels when trying to find a cure for her son’s “affliction,” to the slow, heart-wrenching realisation of what she’s putting him through, Kidman ensures audiences empathise with her character. After all, her every decision is guided by love – for her husband, her son, and her God.
Despite a few detractions, Boy Erased nevertheless remains an eye-opening drama with moving performances and a pertinent message. It is perhaps one that may benefit the parents of LGBT+ youth just as much as the youth themselves, showing the struggles some of these children have gone through and highlighting the changes or acceptances some may need to make or find within themselves.