There are many times in the history of Hollywood where rival studios make competing versions of the same type of film. But if one had to guess a topic that would be least likely to produce two different movies of the same ilk, gay conversion therapy would be near the top of that list.
And yet, just a few months after the release of The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Boy Erased is here to try to rack up a few award nominations. Whereas the first film was based on a novel, this movie is based on the memoir of Garrard Conley, lending it a true-to-life gravitas that makes all the difference in the world.
Lucas Hedges plays a fictionalized version of Conley named Jared Eamons, the only child of Marshall (Russell Crowe), a car dealer/pastor, and Nancy (Nicole Kidman). After he confesses to having romantic feelings toward men, Marshall and Nancy quickly send him to a gay conversion program that uses all sorts of tactics to convince its participants to renounce their feelings.
It’s a mostly faith-based approach with little room for disagreement. At first, Jared goes along with the teachings, even telling his mom that he’s enjoying it. But the true nature of the program, led by Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton), slowly comes to light, revealing itself to be unnecessarily denigrating and occasionally brutal.
The film, written and directed by Edgerton, employs a back-and-forth style that alternates between scenes of Jared in therapy and ones showing the times in his life that have led to this point. With his life so ingrained in the church, Jared can’t trust even himself, leading to a variety of confusing and sometimes harmful situations.
For the majority of viewers, the ignorance and insensitivity displayed by those in charge of the program will likely be infuriating. Edgerton gets triple credit on this front, as his deft writing and directing allow the emotions to build, and his role as the program’s leader sets him up as the bad guy who takes the brunt of that emotion.
Hedges, after earning an Oscar nomination for Manchester by the Sea, is absolutely everywhere this year, including the recently released Mid90s and the soon-to-be-released Ben is Back. It’s no secret why he’s so in demand, as he has a soulfulness that can be applied to a variety of roles. He’s as good as ever here, and with the double dip of Ben is Back, it’s difficult to imagine him not being up for at least one major award this year.
He is supported by a wealth of great actors, including Kidman, Crowe, Edgerton, and Troye Sivan. Kidman is especially effective, as she gets to play a woman who is much more than she seems on the surface.
One hopes that the world soon reaches a point where stories like the one in Boy Erased no longer have to be told. Until that time, though, we can take some solace in the fact that the stories allow for the creation of great art.