Please see it, please see it, please see it.
I don’t often cry during movies. No, I’m not “too cool” to cry, believe me, I just happen to not often cry. A movie has to be really special to get tears out of me and before I even walked into the theatre, I knew that this movie was going to be one of the ones that breaks me. I couldn’t help it. The ones that normally get to me are moving dramas based on true stories with a focus on inequality led by an all-star cast. And a moving drama based on a true story that focuses on inequality led be an all-star cast is exactly what Boy Erased (2018) is. I’ll admit, I teared up even while I was writing this review! Wow, was this movie powerful.
Based on Garrard Conley’s memoir of the same name, Boy Erased tells the story of Jared Eamons (names have been changed for the film adaptation) and his time spent in a gay conversion therapy program, as he comes to terms with his sexuality and the strain that puts on the relationship between him and his Baptist parents. As I sat down to write this review, I was reminded of when I reviewed The Hate U Give (2018) – which you can check out here – and how the horrific reality of its subject matter made the review all the more difficult to write. It’s so hard to watch a movie filled with hatred, and injustice, when you have the added knowledge that it’s based off of true events. As difficult as it was to sit through, Boy Erased is an incredibly moving and powerful movie that is worth enduring the repulsive subject matter to see.
Lucas Hedges owns this movie. He’s in nearly every scene and his characterization of Jared is wonderfully poignant as he’s able to capture the duality of a young man struggling with his identity and simultaneously trying to be the son his parents want him to be. Through subtle body language and facial expressions, Hedges is able to convey these emotions with the execution of an actor with twice his experience. Remember, he’s only 21. Yet already he’s landed supporting roles in acclaimed movies such as Lady Bird (2017), Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), and Manchester by the Sea (2016), the latter of which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Not too shabby for someone whose first role was “Lilly’s Dance Partner” in Dan in Real Life (2007). Speaking of, Dan in Real Life is GREAT and if you haven’t seen it, please go check it out. But back to Boy Erased. Hedges performance is nothing short of amazing and his screen presence is so magnetic that I couldn’t tear my eyes away from anything Jared was doing. Hedges adds so much nuance and life to the character that as is the case with most of the biopics I’ve seen this year, I felt like I was watching a documentary. Hedges’ magnetism made me fully invested in Jared’s story, especially since I haven’t read the titular memoir and was genuinely anxious to see how the story would end. I really like Lucas Hedges and hope he continues to score astounding roles such as this one.
The scenes inside the gay conversion therapy program, grossly named “Love In Action,” will make any decent human being sick to their stomach. Despite not employing a single medical professional, the program treats homosexuality like a clinical disease, something that can be cured in a few weeks. Keep your ears sharp for the haunting score, as the music that accompanies Jared’s arrival is appropriately unsettling and cult-like. Heartbreaking and horrific to witness, the program makes the children dress modestly, confiscates their personal belongings, physically and verbally abuses them, and repeatedly enforces the notion that they are Satan-welcoming sinners who need to be saved. Chief “therapist” Victor Sykes, played by writer and director Joel Edgerton, commands the group to repeat, “I am using sexual sin and homosexuality to fill a God-shaped hole in my life. We need to invite God back in.” The despicable characters in the movie, and boy are they plentiful, talk a lot about how God hates gay people, and I couldn’t help but laugh thinking about the brilliant joke that Jason Sudeikis made on Saturday Night Live (1975 – present):
I was relieved to see that I wasn’t the only one in the theatre laughing at the ridiculousness of God hating somebody. As Devil-Sudeikis points out, God loves every single person for exactly who they are, a fact that not enough people take to heart. God’s acceptance is a recurring theme and motivation for Jared’s parents, played flawlessly by Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe, as they force their son into the program with the idea that it will be to his benefit and “heal” him. Perfectly portraying the modesty, stubbornness, and devout convictions common in the South, Kidman and Crowe make their characters feel utterly realistic. In fact, I had to remind myself that behind the egregious characters I was watching, were two actors I greatly admire. Though wrong in their initial treatment of him, the love Jared’s parents have for him is undeniable, and as they eventually come to grips with the effects of their misguided actions, each one is given an arc that displays the difficulty and struggle some parents face in accepting their children. Kidman even goes as far as to say, “shame on me.” You know how hard it is for a parent to admit they were wrong? About ANYTHING?
As I was watching Boy Erased, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the similarly-titled, Beautiful Boy (2018), which you can check out my review for here. Both movies are true stories based on monumentally challenging times in their young protagonist’s life as his family struggles to support him through the horrors he endures. When I saw Beautiful Boy, I remember feeling underwhelmed despite the fantastic performances, as it felt like we never got a clear understanding of how protagonist Nic Sheff’s meth addiction affected him behind closed doors. Not to compare tragedies, but Boy Erased‘s portrayal of Jared felt much more comprehensive as his moments of pain, loneliness and shame were revealed to the audience. Hedges performance felt wholly original as he gave us an inside look at a young man torn between the faith of his family, and the honesty of living as his true self. It bears repeating, Hedges is so damn talented. He really reminds me of Leonardo DiCaprio in the early stages of his career.
A solid directorial debut from Joel Edgerton, Boy Erased is a shocking and revelatory experience that is anchored by its central themes of love, bravery, and endurance. Already a Golden Globe nominee for his performance, I’d put good money on Hedges nabbing an Academy Award nomination as well. Though at times you may feel too saddened to see the movie through, I implore that you do because not only is this an important story, but one that has a most satisfying ending. I don’t normally read books after seeing their film adaptation, but I NEED to read the memoir after seeing this movie. Seriously you guys, it’s that good.
Have you read or seen Boy Erased? What did you think?
Let me know in the comments or on social media!