To date, 14 states and the District of Columbia have banned conversion therapy for minors—the practice of using all manner of psychological methods to convert homosexual young adults and children to heterosexuality—which means there are still 36 states that still accept it as a viable practice. Writer-director Joel Edgerton’s new film Boy Erased won’t likely change that statistic, but it still manages to succeed as a cautionary tale about the inherent danger (and fallacy of) conversion therapy. And though it may not change anyone’s mind, it can still be appreciated not only for the story of its real-life subject but for the quality work of the filmmakers and cast.
Based on Garrard Conley’s 2016 memoir, Boy Erased stars Lucas Hedges as Jared Eamons, a conflicted Arkansas high schooler in the early 2000s who is dating a (female) cheerleader and living under the ultra-conservative roof of his mother Nancy (Nicole Kidman) and father Marshall (Russell Crowe). Once Jared arrives at college, he wrestles even more with his identity and his sexuality, and after a traumatic sequence of events, he returns home and is maliciously outed to his parents.
Marshall, a staunch Baptist preacher, gives his son two options: get out of the house permanently or undergo conversion therapy at Love in Action, an outpatient, faith-based program that is run by Victor Sykes (Edgerton) with the help of a gritty ex-con (Flea). Sykes puts his patients through a number of activities—from trying their hand at the batting cage to crafting a family tree that outlines relatives’ moral failures—all in the name of getting the kids back in God’s good graces.
Hedges, who arrived on the radar with his outstanding work in 2016’s Manchester By the Sea, is even better here, channeling Jared’s torment into a performance of quiet, understated beauty. Kidman and Crowe are both excellent, too—particularly Kidman, who subtly breathes exquisite life into Nancy and prevents her from becoming what easily could have been a one-dimensional stock character.
Edgerton, directing only his second film (after 2015’s excellent The Gift), does an admirable job putting all the pieces together, and, with the help of cinematographer Eduard Grau, gives Boy Erased a perfectly vintage feel, imbuing the film with blues and oranges to match the moment. Its only real shortcoming is that Edgerton never seems to put his foot all the way down on the accelerator. While there is certainly no need for ham-fisted blow-ups or ostentation, it’s hard to escape the prevailing feeling throughout the film that there was at least one more gear he could have thrown it into. Small potatoes, though—less is better than more here, and Boy Erased serves as an uplifting story that needed to be written.