I’m usually disinterested in a film when it claims to be “based on a true story” as it’s just a cheap marketing ploy, but when you get something based off a memoir, then you have my attention. When you’re taking the words directly from the person, it’s easier to translate their story into something more real. There’s no need for melodrama, action, hype, or anything like that. Just good, old fashioned, human storytelling. 

Based on the memoir of the same name, Boy Erased follows Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges), a young, closeted homosexual growing up in an evangelical Christian family. When unfortunate circumstances force him to come out to his parents, his pastor father Marshall (Russell Crowe) and mother Nancy (Nicole Kidman) enroll him in Love in Action, a gay conversion camp. At the camp, Jared and others are subject to much psychological abuse, causing him to have a reckoning with his own faith and self. 

As you can see, we have a fun family film here, but surprisingly, it’s not too depressing and shocking. With a film about the horrors of attempted gay conversion, it honestly felt pretty tame in its execution. There are some very uncomfortable scenes, thanks to Joel Edgerton’s creepy performance, but with the changes the characters go through, I expected to see more explored with that. I felt the two story threads between home and camp never really came together, though. It’s oddly structured and paced, with a lot of flashbacks and flashforwards, which made total investment difficult. I also wasn’t a fan of Edgerton’s, who was also the director, drab and gray color palette. It definitely matches the dreary tone of the film, but I found it ugly to look at and overall distracting, as everything seemed desaturated. 

Edgerton perfectly represents Jared’s feeling of being trapped. There are many moments where he’s surrounded by people, locked into a room, or backed into a corner, with nobody to save him. It’s these moments where the film gets truly horrifying and uncomfortable, making you feel just as anxious as Jared as he goes through this process. He never knows when he can find himself trapped again, and you never know either. Hedges, who clearly has the best agent ever, continues his upwards trajectory to stardom as one of the best young actors working today. I find him incredibly naturalistic, with a lot of genuine facial tics and body language to influence his characters. With how he carries himself when he walks, or when he woefully watches his peers engage in more accepted relationships, it’s incredibly sad, especially when trying to do it out of love of his family and religion. 

A majority of the story takes place at the Love in Action camp where Jared undergoes his abuse, but the true meat of the story is the relationship with his parents. It’s portrayed in a very realistic and honest way, without demonizing people, nor being overly preachy. Perhaps the memoir nature of the source material added to that realism, but it’s actually touching how they portray the relationship between Jared and his parents. You can tell they really love their son, but they’re so bound by their faith, tradition, and reputation, that they feel like this is the only way for them. Nicole Kidman is simply way too good at playing a southern, evangelical Christian mother. She has the sweet ignorance and naivety down pat. I was less impressed with Russell Crowe, who was fine, but his performance was more understated and felt a little bland. You could really feel the disappointment in his voice whenever he spoke to his son, though. 

I know it’s basically a joke to use this phrase, and it may be odd to use it for this film, but Boy Erased is really a film about family. It’s about a man who has a reckoning with his faith and family, discovering who he truly is, and having his family accept it. The horrors of gay conversion are in the background, but the effects linger through Jared’s life and his relationships. It’s a very honest look at the issue, examining it from the family angle, never straying from that honesty. The original memoir made great strides in exposing the horrors of gay conversion. Let’s hope this film can expose the horrors of family abandonment that comes with it too. 


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