- Emma Simmonds
- 4 February 2019
Gay conversion therapy is the disturbing focus of a restrained drama from Joel Edgerton
Films often come in pairs and so it is with Boy Erased, which offers its own angry-yet-measured take on gay conversion therapy soon after the similarly themed and pitched The Miseducation of Cameron Post. Actor Joel Edgerton follows his genre-bending directorial debut The Gift with an austere adaptation of Garrard Conley's memoir.
Set in Fundamentalist Arkansas – 'Land of Opportunity' as the licence plate would have it – Lucas Hedges plays Jared Eamons, the 18-year-old son of a Baptist pastor and car dealer, who is struggling with his sexuality in a state where to be gay is not only to sin but to heap shame on those around you. When he confides in his parents (played by Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman) it results in him being enrolled in a Love in Action day programme, designed to cast out the 'demons' of same-sex attraction.
Hedges played a closeted gay teen in the comedic Lady Bird but his predicament takes on a darker hue here, often literally in a film which makes its home the shadows. As played by Edgerton himself, the course leader Victor is a sinister and slippery figure, while the shambolic nature of the operation is underlined by the handbook's multiple spelling errors. Quivering strings and fractious keys convey the tumult beneath Jared's calm exterior and the film's air of authenticity is bolstered by Hedges' unflashy, credibly conflicted turn; similarly, despite the moving nature of the subject matter, as a writer-director, Edgerton rarely goes for the emotional jugular.
It's distinguished from the otherwise superior Cameron Post by reserving some of its focus for Jared's parents; despite their bigoted views their perspective on events is welcome and they are sympathetically rather than simplistically presented. And yet, especially given the significant casting coups, these characters can feel frustratingly peripheral.
Well-crafted if a little under illuminating, Boy Erased is a simmering, elegantly helmed glimpse into a deeply disturbing practice that remains legal in most states. It acts as a heartfelt wake-up call to an America which appears to be turning the clock back to a more conservative, intolerant time.
General release from Fri 8 Feb.