FOCUS FEATURES (2019)

 

Director: Joel Edgerton

 

Starring: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Joel Edgerton, Joe Alwyn, Xavier Dolan, Troye Sivan, Cherry Jones, Flea, Russell Crowe

Gay conversion therapy? Yes, it’s an actual thing. Jeez.

 

The memoirs of Garrard Conley, a man who was sent to one of these camps to have the homosexuality beaten out of him as a teen, have been adapted by Joel Edgerton (written and directed by) and he delivers a stark movie about the pressures of life in a devoutly religious family for a young man (renamed Jared Eamons here and portrayed by Hedges) starting to discover his true self. In itself, it sounds like a simple, conventional coming-of-age style flick, however, Boy Erased isn’t that. It’s a pensive drama that shines a light on a cruel practice.

Joel Edgerton’s second directorial effort (after 2015’s The Gift, which was pretty decent) cobbles together a compelling true-life story with a strong line up of performers, whilst also allowing Edgerton to show off his growing talents behind the camera. Boy Erased is a movie that purposely takes its time, it doesn’t rely on consistent major events to keep investment levels high, it simmers along nicely allowing the characters to develop and the audience to become involved with them rather than theatrics and twists. There is one particularly brutal set piece a third of the way through the movie, however, it exists to allow Lucas Hedges’ Jared Eamons to face himself, his struggles and presents a raw visual of the entire situation. The performances as a whole are extremely good – Russell Crowe as a domineering priest, staunchly anti-homosexual via the word of God himself, and Nicole Kidman as the mother caught between her son and her faith. Edgerton appears as Victor Sykes – the ex-homosexual leader of the therapy group – and is just fine as the Chuckle Brothers-lookalike.

 

Where the recent (and excellent) The Miseducation of Cameron Post dealt with a very similar subject, it used a very indie style of filmmaking and writing to purvey its message. Boy Erased is far more stoic in its delivery, humour is minimal and the narrative is more straight edged. It’s packed with real emotion, mainly from the main family, however, the fellow inmates at the therapy centre all have stories to tell and moments to flourish. Crucially, Boy Erased never seeks to lean on manipulation and/or guilt-tripping. The writing does the job well enough without needing to turn to any of those tools.

 

If you’re after a feelgood movie about a youngster facing down the struggles and boundaries placed before them, Boy Erased won’t necessarily tick your boxes (check out Cameron Post for something more akin to that). What it does well is tell its story, develop strong characters and highlight a vile practice that somehow still remains a thing in 2019. It’s engaging, emotional and just a very good movie.

January 15th 2019

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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