Based on the memoir by Garrad Conley, Boy Erased is the story of a teenage boy who is sent to a gay conversion therapy center by his Baptist parents as he struggles with his sexuality while his parents cope with the decision they made. Written for the screen and directed by Joel Edgerton who also co-stars in the film, the film is an exploration of a young man who learns that he’s gay as he has trouble trying to not be who he is while befriending those struggling with their own sexual identity. Starring Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Joe Alwyn, Xavier Dolan, Troye Sivan, Cherry Jones, Madelyn Cline, and Michael “Flea” Balzary. Boy Erased is a compelling and somber film from Joel Edgerton.
Set in the early to late 2000s, the film revolves around an 18-year old boy whose father is a Baptist preacher as he is sent to a gay conversion therapy center where he struggles with its teachings. It’s a film that explores a young man dealing with his own sexual identity as he is sent to this gay conversion therapy center where he would spend much of the day in classes and then stay at a nearby hotel with his mother at night. Joel Edgerton’s screenplay has a narrative that follows the trials and tribulation of Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges) as the narrative moves back and forth on his time at the conversion therapy center as well as events that questioned about his homosexuality where Eamons tries to understand what got him into this place. Notably an incident in college where he was raped by a student named Henry (Joe Alwyn) who immediately regretted his actions yet would out Eamons to his parents.
For Eamons, the time at the center under the supervision of Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton) proves to be challenging as a couple of the attendees give Eamons advice on what to do and what not to do to get through this. Though he is ordered to not share anything about what he has to do at the center, Eamons’ mother Nancy (Nicole Kidman) does become concerned as she gets a look into the program’s handbook. While Eamons’ father in Marshall (Russell Crowe) is someone with good intentions and does want to help his son. He is someone that is from another world and doesn’t understand how to really help him as it does create a discord in his relationship with his son while being unaware of what really goes on at the center.
Edgerton’s direction is straightforward in terms of the compositions he creates as he is concerned with the world that Eamons is in which is the American South in Arkansas as it also showcases this world of gay conversion therapy centers that really try to suppress homosexuality. Shot largely on location in Atlanta with additional shots in New York City for a scene late in the third act, Edgerton does maintain a lot of simplicity into his compositions while he uses the wide and medium shots not just to get a scope of a certain location or a room but also into some of the therapy sessions that Victor tries to instill upon his attendees. There are also some close-ups to play into some of the intimate moments as well as medium shots where Edgerton would play into Eamons’ relationship with his parents as they are concerned with his mother being the one trying to understand what is happening. There are also a few tracking shots in scenes at Marshall’s car dealership as well as areas in the therapy center where Edgerton does infuse a bit of style. Still, Edgerton maintains that sense of unease in the drama such as a confessions scene where an attendee has to do a speech about his or her feelings and why that person is at the center.
Edgerton also play into the sense of growing discomfort that also include some of Eamons’ flashbacks about his arrival in college where he met Henry as well as a time where he went to an art show and met an artist. These two flashbacks along with a scene in high school with his then-girlfriend Chloe (Madelyn Cline) do emphasize his growing sexual confusion while there is also a scene in the third act where Eamons watches uncomfortably when an attendee in Cameron (Britton Sear) is accosted for failing an exercise and is then humiliated in front of family, attendees, and others in a scene that is just terrifying. It is a key moment in the film that raises questions into these methods that Sykes and his group are doing with an even more troubling aftermath that would affect Eamons and his relationship with his father though its conclusion is more about the chance of understanding and reconciliation. Overall, Edgerton crafts a riveting yet heart-wrenching film about a young man’s experience at a gay conversion therapy center.
Cinematographer Eduard Grau does excellent work with the film’s cinematography as it has elements of style with its emphasis on low-key lights for some of the scenes at night as well as some interior scenes in the day. Editor Jay Rabinowitz does brilliant work with the editing as it features stylish usage of jump-cuts as well as a slow-motion sequence while. Production designer Chad Keith, with set decorators Mallorie Coleman and Adam Willis plus art director Jonathan Guggenheim, does amazing work with the look of the center including its main hall as well as the home where Eamons and his family live in. Costume designer Trish Summerville does fantastic work with the costumes that is mostly casual with the exception of the clothes that Nancy wears.
Makeup artist Kyra Panchenko does nice work with the look of Nancy from her hairstyle as it play into that world of the American South. Visual effects supervisors Eran Dinur and Chris LeDoux do terrific work with the film’s minimal visual effects as it is largely set dressing in some parts of the film’s location. Sound editor Glenfield Payne does superb work with the sound in capturing the sparse atmosphere of the center in its main hall as well as the way music is presented on the radio or at a concert. The film’s music by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurrians is wonderful for orchestral score that help plays into the drama while music supervisor Linda Cohen assembles a soundtrack that features some Christian music and Christian rock but also music from MGMT, Fleet Foxes, Jonsi, Underworld, Tracy Lawrence, Seether, and Troye Sivan.
The casting by Carmen Cuba is incredible as it feature some notable small roles from Madelyn Cline as Eamons’ girlfriend early in the film Chloe, Jesse LaTourette as a female attendee at the center in Sarah, Theodore Pellerin as an artist Eamons met in Xavier, Britton Sear as a young center attendee in Cameron who is struggling with the methods of the program, Troye Sivan as an attendee in Gary who tells Eamons to stick with the program and not be noticed, and Cherry Jones as a doctor in a flashback who is concerned with Eamons’ decision to go to the center as she suggests that it’s best to not go. Xavier Dolan is superb as an attendee in Jon who is hell-bent on being fixed as he refuses to be touched while Michael “Flea” Balzary is fantastic as a tough-minded counselor in Brandon who emphasizes on masculinity to help out with the therapy through some extreme physical challenges. Joe Alwyn is excellent as Henry as a young college student Eamons meets where things don’t exactly go well as he would end up making things worse.
Joel Edgerton is brilliant as Victor Sykes as the director of the conversion therapy center who believes he is trying to help these young people as he is someone with good intentions but his methods end up being questionable and at times overwhelming to the point of abuse. Russell Crowe is amazing as Eamons’ father Marshall as a Baptist pastor who also runs an auto dealership who is concerned for his son yet is uncertain in what to do as Crowe does bring in this complexity into a man that does love his son but is also a man of God as he’s someone that is conflicted where Crowe plays him with great restraint as well as be someone that is full of fear though his heart is in the right place.
Nicole Kidman is radiant as Eamons’ mother Nancy as this air of warmth and understanding as a woman who does love her faith but she also loves her son as she accompanies him to the center while trying to figure out what they’re doing as Kidman just has this air of grace while knowing when to be the mama bear. Finally, there’s Lucas Hedges in a phenomenal performance as Jared Eamons as an 18-year old kid who is struggling with his sexual identity as well as his own experiences with homosexuality where he’s unsure if he’s done anything wrong while also dealing with the intense therapy sessions that has gotten him more confused as it is a career-defining performance from Hedges.
Boy Erased is an incredible film from Joel Edgerton that features great performances from Lucas Hedges, Russell Crowe, and Nicole Kidman. Along with its supporting cast, amazing visuals, and its themes about sexual identity and its conflicts with faith, the film is a unique character study of a young man trying to understand himself but also in the world that he’s raised in and their reluctance to accept who he is. In the end, Boy Erased is a phenomenal film from Joel Edgerton.
© thevoid99 2021