Actor-turned-director Joel Edgerton appeared at last night's Philadelphia premiere of his new awards contender, Boy Erased, and proclaimed that he was pushed into making the film as an embattled inner-reaction to reading Garrard Conley's memoir by the same name. Conley's lifetime of trials and tribulations as the son of a pastor coming to grips with his own sexuality through a forced conversion therapy clearly provoked a bitterness in the director, something Edgerton felt compelled to bring to big screen as an eye-opening realization of this outdated procedure. And through the filmmaker’s respectful portrayal of Conley’s burdened journey into adulthood, Boy Erased highlights a still-present debate in our society's ongoing quest for acceptance and equality.
Jared (Lucas Hedges) is a popular teen living what many would label as a “normal” life. He’s the son of loving parents (Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman) who push him to to remain dedicated to God, while also playing on sports teams and dating a popular girl in school. Yet, despite this wholesome and envious upbringing, Jared finds deep-rooted temptation in his undeniable attraction to the same sex. And after an incident at college brings this secret to his parent’s attention, Jared attempts to correct his natural impulses by attending a gay conversion program at the demand of his pastor father.
Boy Erased’s non-chronological flow helps unveil iconic moments to Garrard Conley’s true experiences in a substantially appropriate sequence. This young man’s difficult journey, both emotionally and psychologically, is often inconsolable, scarred by tragedy and a helpless uncertainty that brings depth and moral complexity to the lead character. Rising star Lucas Hedges absorbs these wide-ranging emotions, illustrating a truly ambivalent onscreen persona that’s absolutely heartbreaking at times, and unapologetically fearless at others. It's truly empowering to witness Jared’s metamorphosis from a scared and confused teenager to a self-accepting and resolute young adult. He faces off against his overbearing and religious father, who’s wonderfully portrayed by Russell Crowe, and even alters his mother’s stance on the family dilemma. Speaking of which, Nicole Kidman generally targets Oscar-baity roles, ones which allow her to suck all the air out of scenes. Yet, in a surprising turn of events she delivers a more tempered performance, but one that still highlights her singular talents. If anything, Boy Erased places a focus on the absurdities surrounding these conversion programs, knowing very well which audiences can and can’t be swayed by this dramatization. While I continue to waver back and forth on the film's Best Picture prospects, Boy Erased still marks a strong and impactful follow-up feature for Joel Edgerton.