By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Before Garrard Conley started his career as an acclaimed writer, he lived a rather simple life in Arkansas with his loving parents. His parents have a traditional marriage with his mother working as a hairdresser and his father working as a car salesman while also serving as a preacher at their Baptist church. Things got rather complicated a when Conley began to have some not-so-traditional feelings when it came to sexuality. When he unwillingly gets outed to his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Conley consult with the church for help. Boy Erased is based on the disturbing experiences that Garrard Conley had when his parents forced him to undergo conversion therapy. Writer/director/actor Joel Edgerton does an exceptional job of converting this true story for cinema.
Lucas Hedges stars as Jared Eamons. Just like the real Garrard Conley, Eamons undergoes conversion therapy at a day camp hosted by fundamentalist Christians. Though his mother Nancy (Nicole Kidman) and his father Marshall (Russell Crowe) love him very much, they truly believe that homosexuality is a sin and a choice, so they have nothing but the best intentions in sending him to therapy. As Jared goes through “the program” he begins to question the methods of chief therapist Victor Sykes (Edgerton) and some of the other more antagonistic therapists running the camp. Ultimately, Jared comes to realize that the conversion program is abusive, hurtful, and does much more damage than good.
As a filmmaker, Joel Edgerton first impressed me with his dark mystery thriller, The Gift. So going into this film, I had a strong feeling that I’d be in for something great. Edgerton does not disappoint. His sophomore film, though different from his previous one, is superbly written and competently directed. Edgerton does a fantastic job of bringing Garrard Conley’s story to life with beats and moments that are appropriately perturbing and unnerving. He also does great work in delivering the more emotional and poignant beats that the story of loving, but misguided parents should have.
Actor Lucas Hedges is on a roll right now. This wonderfully gifted actor has two major shots at awards this year with two impressive turns, both of which are in films that screened at this year’s Austin Film Festival. With Boy Erased, Hedges utilizes his talent for portraying vulnerable and empathetic characters wonderfully. Jared Eamons is a highly likable and smart young man whose natural sexual feelings clash with what his parents believe through their religion. Hedges exudes that pain and conflict which confuses his character to the core. Russell Crowe also does some impressive work as Jared’s stern, but caring father Marshall.
Nicole Kidman performs mostly well as Jared’s strong, but nurturing mother Nancy, but I feel that the hair and makeup department failed to give her a natural look. I was often distracted by Kidman’s appearance which looks more like a Halloween costume instead of a realistic style choice. Joel Edgerton, who not only juggles script writing and directorial duties, also impresses as the fickle and dubious chief therapist Victor Sykes. The film also features some appropriately unsavory turns by Flea and Xavier Dolan, along with an affecting performance by Britton Sear.
Garrard Conley’s story is a rather disturbing one, but one that does end on a hopeful note. Parents who truly love their children should do so unconditionally, regardless of their true sexual orientation. Boy Erased serves as an honest cautionary story of how some religious beliefs can and will do more harm than good. Garrard Conley managed to survive conversion therapy to tell his story, but not all who go through this ordeal come out unscathed.