“Boy Erased” illuminates a stifled struggle


Colman Hallinan, Staff Writer

The gut-wrenching facts about conversion therapy came to the big screen recently as writer-director Joel Edgerton adapted “Boy Erased” from Garrard Conley’s memoir of the same name. “Boy Erased” follows Garrard Conley (Lucas Hedges), a gay teenager born into a fundamentalist family in Arkansas. Due to egregious circumstances, Jared is outed to his family. His father, Marshall Conley (Russell Crowe) is the pastor of the local Baptist church. When he learns of his son’s sexuality, he gives Garrard an ultimatum: attend conversion therapy, or lose his family and friends forever. Faced with an impossible decision, Garrard agrees to go. At Loving Action, the program that his father has chosen for him, Garrard encounters other people of various ages struggling with their sexuality. Victor Sykes, the leader, viciously attempts to strip Garrard and his peers of everything that makes them who they are.

The film is brutal, it is honest, it is flawed, but it tells a very familiar tale of love and humanity. The picture it paints is a sad truth about conversion therapy in America. Hedges gives a convincing performance, although his character feels unsure, almost questioning. It isn’t until the end of the film that Garrard feels confident in his sexuality, and even then it feels as though Edgerton dances around it. Conley’s sexuality should have been the centerpiece of the film. It’s a statement about Conley’s conflicts with the values his father preaches, and his personal feelings, but Edgerton never utilizes it enough to infuse the film with more emotional depth. I felt hints and glimmers of Garrard’s inner struggle with faith and sexuality, but I don’t think that struggle reached its full potential. Despite an earnest effort, the journey that Edgerton takes us on often feels clunky and disjointed.
Even with its flaws, “Boy Erased” has striking performances from Hedges, Crowe and Nicole Kidman, who plays Garrard’s mother, and even Edgerton as Victor Sykes. Kidman especially shines in her role, delivering a heart wrenching performance.

“Boy Erased” is undoubtedly a solid movie. That being said, it is not as particularly joyous or heartwarming as many people would like. The film ambitiously and unapologetically covers controversial subject matter that may deter more sensitive viewers. At times, I had to look away from the screen for a moment. It was difficult to watch, at times even painful, but it gave the movie a raw authenticity that elevated it.

As awards season approaches, the question demands to be asked: where will “Boy Erased” land at the Oscars? It is an emotional film and honest in its intentions, but technically and artistically, “Boy Erased” isn’t all that groundbreaking. Aside from some unique cinematography and phenomenal performances, “Boy Erased” is a decent film with a strong message. But in an increasingly politicized climate, it is tough to predict whether the Academy will be able to maintain its artistic integrity, and whether films like “Boy Erased” will win on their merits, or on their messages.

“Boy Erased” is a brutally honest and emotional yet flawed account of a sadly prevalent issue plaguing America. Through a somewhat muddled plot, strong performances and authenticity make “Boy Erased” stand out.

Length: 1 hour and 54 minutes.

Predicted Awards: Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Actor Nomination