Film Review: "Boy Erased" is Compassionate and Nearly Impact-free
Throw Boy Erased right alongside Beautiful Boy. Not only because they’re both based off memoirs, headlined by talented young men and have the word ‘boy’ in the title, but because, for all the emotional sweep Boy Erased is clearly going for, its resonance is curiously muted.
Boy Erased follows Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges), the son of a Baptist preacher. A young man on the verge of adulthood and discovering his sexuality, Jared is forced by his parents (Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman) to attend gay conversion therapy or be ostracised from the family. There, he comes into conflict with the chief therapist (Joel Edgerton).
Okay, Boy Erased, I agree that parents who send their children to gay conversion therapy camps may not be unfeeling monsters but just stupendously misguided. Yes, Boy Erased, it does indeed seem likely that the men who work at these camps are mediocre opportunists with nothing to offer but self-hatred and acquiescence. Boy Erased, you are right that the onus is on society to accept this kid as he is and not on the kid to undergo a trial by fire in order to achieve a modicum of inner peace. I agree with you, Boy Erased, in the same way that I agree with oxygen and believe sunshine is good and treachery is bad.
Perhaps this film is aimed at an older generation. At those folks who love their gay kids or relatives but are fundamentally uncomfortable with their sexuality. There’s something calculating and pointed about the film’s sterile and drag sexlessness. The cinematography, score and dialogue are all depressingly straightforward, rarely rising above the serviceable stuff you’d see on a made for tv movie. This is a plea for tolerance but ‘without any of that gay shit’.
I admit: I could be wrong but, unfortunately, this is how the film made me feel. It’s a film with milk in its veins; assiduously uncontroversial. Beige and benign, despite all its compassion.
Complaints aside, there are some worthwhile moments in Boy Erased. Hedges, Crowe, Kidman, and writer/director Joel Edgerton all deliver thoughtful and sometimes beautifully well-rounded performances. Hedges and Crowe, in particular, share a knockout final scene together. It’s just enough to send you out of the cinema with a good impression.
Boy Erased has noble intentions and a good heart, but it leaves nary an imprint. And, for a film with such inherently harrowing and emotionally charged subject matter, that is almost unforgivable.
2.5 Stars out of 5