‘Boy, Erased’ doesn’t rush to demonize
By LINDSEY BAHR
AP Film Writer
“Boy Erased “ is based on the true story of a young man, Garrard Conley, whose Baptist family put him in a conversation therapy center to “cure” his homosexuality when he was just 19 years old. Conley wrote about his experiences in a memoir, which writer-director-actor Joel Edgerton has adapted for the screen in a manner that is admirably and almost radically empathetic to all its characters – even the villains.
In the film, the protagonist is called Jared Eamons, giving a little distance perhaps from the real-life subjects. He is played with deep soulfulness by the talented actor Lucas Hedges who has yet to meet a role he can’t conquer. His parents are Marshall Eamons (Russell Crowe), a respected local pastor and car salesman in Arkansas, and Nancy Eamons (Nicole Kidman), a dutiful wife and caring mother with a penchant for tastefully bedazzled clothing.
They’re the kind of family who when presented with the information that their only son might be gay, aren’t just opposed to the idea, but believe deep down that it’s a sin, a choice and an affliction that can be cured, on par with things such as domestic violence, alcoholism and pedophilia. But they’re also the kind of family who believes that this mentality comes from love, not intolerance or prejudice.
And so, after some tears and consulting with local men of the church who’ve “dealt” with things like this before, Marshall decides to ship Jared off to conversion therapy to be fixed in a program run by a man named Victor Sykes (played by Edgerton himself). This is not to say that the film doesn’t have a point of view, it just doesn’t rush to demonize the people putting Jared in this situation. The administrators at the center (including Flea as an ex-con there to muscle the kids into submission) do that well enough on their own and without external embellishment or contrivances.
The story is told in real- time peppered with various flashbacks as Jared wrestles with what he’s been through, what he’s felt and what he wants to do. We don’t get much of Jared’s internal monologue, but there is the sense that there is real conflict in him. He’s a good kid who is used to pleasing his parents, and now, through no fault of his own, he has managed to disappoint them, and he carries that shame.
The center devolves into a place of horrors as the weeks go on, but there is a glint of hope as Nancy, who is stewarding her son to and from the sessions while they stay in a local hotel, starts to read up on their philosophies and techniques. It’s an arc that I didn’t see coming and one that justifies why someone as brilliant as Kidman was necessary. Even Crowe, who is mostly absent, gets his own few minutes of affecting emotion by the end.
“Boy Erased” is rated R for “sexual content including an assault, some language and brief drug use.” Running time: 2:54. Grade: 3 stars (out of 4).