What a wonderful boy these Baptist fundamentalists raised was my first thought after viewing Joe Edgerton’s film, “Boy Erased”. Lucas Hedges plays a much different teen than he did in “Manchester By The Sea” ( reviewed here Dec.3rd, 2016 ). His Patrick was abrasive, spoiled, self-obsessed, but here Hedges, as Jared Eamons, is earnest, honest, and compassionate. Hedges can bring teen angst, suffering, and exploration to the screen so that this true-life story makes us what to reach in and rescue Jared from these same loving parents, who put him through expensive “conversion therapy” to change his sexual orientation. Jared survives the harrowing ordeal and tells us in flashback style that “sometimes I wish none of this happened, but I thank God that it did.”
Joel Edgerton’s screenplay lets Jared’s preacher father have his say in the pulpit and arround a table of faith-filled elders. Russell Crowe is phenomenal as Marshall Eamons, a car dealership owner, salesman, and Southern preacher. You do not recognize him fifty pounds heavier and intent on steering his family toward his concept of the Lord.
Rules are important. Here, Crowe doesn’t break them. He believes in small steps to manhood, so that it is ironic that he forces his son’s rebellion into manhood in one fell swoop. A boy’s suicide sets the stage.
Crowe can deliver a line nuanced and proud: “Enough. I sought the counsel of wiser men.” Again, the irony. When Jared’s Dad gives him his cherished pen, cedar like Jesus’ cross, it is heart wrenching. Jared tells his Dad that he has to be the one to change, and he welcomes him to his place in NYC.
Nicole Kidman is Jared’s mom. She is good at silent crying and hand clutching, but I always see Nicole Kidman. She does not believe what Sykes tells her son “that God will not love you the way you are now”. When her son calls her she comes. She is Tiger mom. “I’ll handle your father: he can fall in line with me for a change.” Kidman’s best lines are simple ones: “ I love God. God loves me. I love my son. It is more complicated for your Dad.”
Edgerton directs and also, stars as the conflicted villain, Victor Sykes. The mix of religion and brain-washing is hard to watch. The chant, “fake it til you make it” frightening. The music is apprehensive: the cinematography good. When an assessment program asks boys to detail their sexual experiences, we feel that confessor Sykes is getting indirect satisfaction. We learn at the film’s end that Sykes, gay himself, takes a husband. His mantra, “lean into it” pushes the irony.
The Southerner Garrard Conley’s 2016 novel is the base for Edgerton’s film. Conley is an activist and speaker championing the end of “conversion therapy” groups and related retreats and businesses. His survivor podcasts can be heard under the name, “UnErased”.