Just leave people be!
Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges) is the son of a Baptist pastor (Russell Crowe) in a small-town and now has to deal with the ramifications of being outed as gay. While his mother is much more supportive of his life (Nicole Kidman), she ultimately sides with her father in that Jared has to go to conversion-therapy to, in other words, pray the gay out of him. This is a ridiculous idea, but Jared plays ball with it because he believes that it’s plausible that he can get closer to God and as a result, become a straight man. And at first, everything seems perfectly rosy; he’s learning new stuff, his relationship with God is healthier, and he’s beginning to make some progress. However, as time progresses, he begins to realize that this therapy is not all it’s made out to be and in ways, more of a dangerous sham than anything. But how will he be able to get out of it, if everyone in it believes that it’s what he needs?
Out of the two conversion-therapy movies released last year, Boy Erased is by far the safest (the Miseducation of Cameron Post was the other), which means that it’s definitely the weaker of the two. You can tell that writer/director Joel Edgerton clearly went out of his way to make this relevant story seen and heard for each and every person in the world, regardless of the controversial subject-material and like Love, Simon, it deserves at least some credit for that. But does making something “more mainstream” automatically mean you have a better movie?
Not really and in the case of Boy Erased, you can tell that something’s missing. Material like this, as enraging and frustrating as it is, should be grab you and never let you – one should be sitting in their seat and wanting to rip themselves out of their char and beat-up every person on the screen (minus the gay people who are doing nothing wrong). But for some odd reason, Edgerton doesn’t really bring much of emotion to this; when he could have gone for anger, he instead settles for some peace. It’s as if Edgerton respected this story too much to really do anything smart, compelling, or even interesting with it, so he just told the story, the way it was, and probably, how it was written in the book.
Once again, nothing wrong with honoring the source-material, but does that always make a great movie?
There are bits and pieces of Boy Erased that are really interesting and sort of touch on this idea of sexuality vs. religion (Cherry Jones shows up as a doctor in perhaps the most thought-provoking scene of the whole thing and she’s only in it for five minutes), but other than that, it’s pretty much just two hours of “evil Jesus people doing bad stuff”. Edgerton seems to obviously hate the pastors and the counselors who are trying to brain-wash these kids, which is fine, but at the same time, they are all so one-dimensional that you never buy them. Flea shows up as a veteran who is perhaps the goofiest, most over-the-top counselor in the movie and feels like he walked in from Baby Driver (a movie in which he starred as a goofy criminal).
And this is all weird because even in something like the Gift, Edgerton wrote these three-dimensional characters where we were able to understand each and everyone, no matter how in the wrong they were. We may not have loved them, but we saw them as people and it made whatever happened in that movie, more compelling as a result. Here, Edgerton seems to lose himself on caricatures and it undercuts everything that this movie is standing against and speaking up for. It does a disservice and if anything, feels like a disappointment that not even this talented ensemble can really walk away from. Hedges, Crowe and of course, Kidman are all fine, but really, they never feel fully fleshed-out, even if they are real people, in real life.
So yeah. Just watch Cameron Post instead.
Consensus: No doubt easy to support, but harder to actually be compelled by, Boy Erased feels almost too safe to really dig in deep to what really should infuriate anyone who watches it.
5 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Focus Features