The "Boy Erased" trailer previews a film about gay conversion therapy.

Focus Features via CNN

Movie review: Poignancy of 'Boy Erased' leaves moviegoers with a state of catharsis

November 09, 2018 - 7:00 am
Categories: 

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Based on a memoir, "Boy Erased" makes the kind of vivid impression that should allow it to linger sturdily in the memories of its appreciative audience.

The biographical coming-of-age drama revolves around Jared Eamons, the son of a Baptist preacher in Arkansas, played by Lucas Hedges, who is forced to participate in a gay conversion program after being outed to his conservative parents, played by Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe.

The gay conversion therapy is seen as a cruelly heartless technique — still legal in most quarters in this country — that in this case is employed in high gear following a horrific act of abuse.

Jared's parents enroll him in Love in Action, a gay conversion camp with a prison-like setting, where the title character hears much more than he wants to about the sinful "choices" he has made and the need for his "retraining." 

He is also subjected to psychological and physical abuse under the supervision of the center's head honcho, an "ex-gay" therapist played by the film's director, Joel Edgerton.

The boy's choice is to attend the camp and cooperate or to be ignored or exiled by his family and friends.

Edgerton, known for his role in "The Gift," is an actor directing for a second time. He works from his own script, adapted from Garrard Conley's memoir.

The director, confident enough in the source material to remain remarkably restrained in his approach, seems intent on pursuing and conveying an explanation of the parents' actions and behaviors, an approach that might be seen as admirably even-handed.

The problem is that this approach more or less erases portions of this portrait of the protagonist, which we look for to remain front and center from beginning to end.

It is, after all, the boy's movie.

Furthermore, this flat style, devoid of unexpected wrinkles, robs the film of some of its dramatic power, with the tension not quite mounting to the level that it should in the latter stages.

At any rate, you can't blame the principal actors for the film's shortcomings: Here are three fine performances.

Hedges demonstrates that his Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for "Manchester by the Sea" was no fluke.

Meanwhile, Oscar winners Kidman, a four-time nominee as Best Actress for "The Hours," and three-time nominee Crowe, a winner as Best Actor for "Gladiator," live up to their billing.

Edgerton knows he has an able cast, and he keeps the camera close so the performers can affect us, which they do, even if the catharsis is not quite as explosive as we anticipate.

Still, the film remains sensitive, thoughtful, and poignant throughout.

So we'll rate it 3 stars out of 4. "Boy Erased" is a quiet, affecting drama with estimable staying power.