sun 14/08/2022

Boy Erased review - gay vs God drama treated with empathy | reviews, news & interviews

Boy Erased review - gay vs God drama treated with empathy

Boy Erased review - gay vs God drama treated with empathy

Solid studio film tackles gay conversion therapy from a mainstream perspective

Lucas Hedges: mainstream difference

Joel Edgerton’s second turn as a director is the second film in a year to treat the subject of gay conversion therapy.

The first was Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post, whose victory at Sundance a year ago confirmed, symbolically not least, its origins within the world of American independent cinema. By contrast, Boy Erased comes squarely out of the studio system, with an approach to theme and broader treatment that is clearly aimed at a wider audience.

For once, however, it’s not a case of Hollywood simplifying or reducing its starting material. Edgerton himself adapted Garrard Conley’s eponymous 2016 memoir, whose story is concerned at least as much with the wider world that surrounds its protagonist (renamed Jared here, he is played with real, understated intensity by Lucas Hedges). The involvement of his parents (Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe) is central throughout, particularly the reactions of Kidman’s character to a process into which she becomes closely absorbed (Akhavan’s film, by contrast, was about its heroine finding a confident independence, one that could leave family and past behind). What both films share, and must be commended for, is their conviction in exposing the practice of a therapy that, although opposed by medical authoritiess, is still practiced in 36 US states.Boy ErasedEdgerton starts his non-linear narrative in media res, as Jared sets off with his mother Nancy for the “Love in Action” therapy centre that will endeavour to “correct” his sexual orientation. His backstory is gradually filled in: how he has grown up, an only child, in Bible Belt Arkansas – his father, Marshall, is a local lay pastor – and was just heading to college when his first intimations of difference appeared. One particularly brutal experience away from home precipitates the revelation that sees him sent away to “change”. There is honesty on both sides – searingly open in his distress, Jared conceals nothing from his parents; in their love for him and devoutly Christian convictions, they in turn see such therapy as offering genuine hope for their son. (Pictured above: Lucas Hedges, Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman)

It’s a process of gradual disillusionment for all concerned. “Love in Action” is a world of imposed rigour, administered by Vincent Sykes (Edgerton, playing the role himself, certainly achieves a curious ambiguity; pictured below, with Lucas Hedges). Jared at least has the consolation that he isn’t an inmate, living instead at a nearby motel with his mother; but it’s a facility that keeps its secrets tightly, and even that degree of freedom may not last, conversion onto a potentially indefinite, live-in basis an increasing likelihood (the financial benefits speak for themselves).Boy ErasedJared gradually learns from his fellow participants that it’s a system best fought by assuming a “fake it ‘til you make it” mentality, learning to feign conversion being the most reliable path to eventual escape. Approaches range from outright cruelty (as doled out by rock musician Flea, playing one of the staff) through to the seemingly benign motivations of Sykes; there’s equal variety among those enrolled on the course, too, from the obsessive reaction taken by the character played by Canadian film director Xavier Dolan, through to the world-weary self-knowledge of pop star Troye Sivan.

But Jared learns from what he witnesses, leading to a stormy denouement which brings Kidman to the fore in the kind of transformative assertion that the actress does so brilliantly (she’s gloriously in her element as the film proceeds, backed up by a range of outfits that increasingly tip the balance of taste; there's a crimson trouser suit that sweeps all before it). Maternal instincts firing, Kidman’s own conversion is from acquiescent wife to assertive mother, staking her loyalty to her son against the balance of her relationship with her husband (Crowe, more and more jowly as the film goes on, cannot compete).

It’s a powerful conclusion that resolves itself into a much more conventional coda, one that no doubt reflects the conclusion of Garrard Conley’s own story, as Jared, his tribulations in the past, seems almost seamlessly absorbed into a welcoming new world. It feels a straightforward resolution for a film that until then has thrived on its high-strung dramatic dynamics. Edgerton’s direction is subtly unassertive and and the playing excellent all round, Lucas especially good in a role, like the one he payed in Manchester by the Sea, that relies on restraint for its power. We can only hope that Nicole Kidman’s "Love is Love" message of acceptance will resound for some who see Boy Erased.

Watch the trailer for Boy Erased

Maternal instincts firing, Kidman’s own conversion is from acquiescent wife to assertive mother


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Average: 3 (1 vote)

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