Boy Erased (2018)

“Our family is so normal.”

The film has great performances, sheds light on the shocking longevity of its true life story, and it pleads with us to accept change. Boy Erased does all of these things well – with the brilliant performances being the clear highlight – and yet the movie undermines its emotional power by leaping back and forth in time without a clear sense of direction. The film is, to put it quite simply, all over the place. Maybe that’s the style of the memoir it’s been adapted from, but as a moviegoing experience, most of the jumps make the pivotal points land with a major thud.

The movie begins in a place that can’t be faked. We see clips from home recordings (real footage of the lead actor as a young boy). He’s happy and smiling, unburdened by the world around him. Then the film jumps into the thick of things, showing the desperately confused Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges) being driven to his first day in a gay conversion program. The film haphazardly moves back and forth between the past and the present life of this new college freshman, struggling to pin down its own identity while the protagonist does likewise. Boy Erased has such a rich, valuable story to tell, and for whatever reason the whole film feels uncertain and muted. I can appreciate that these feelings represent Jared’s interior life, but they don’t wholly resonate in the thin exterior either. I watched this movie and never once did I think that what I witnessed was candid or raw.

What’s frustrating about this film, despite how well it’s been made and how devoted each performance rightfully comes across is that – with the exception of one twisted scene depicting the funeral of a young man who’s alive yet dead to his cold-hearted family – so much of the drama comes across as severely underplayed. Jared’s Dad Marshall (Russell Crowe) acts exactly how he looks. He’s a Bible Belt Baptist preacher, the owner of a successful car dealership, and the kind of man who fears change. I imagine he’d wear his letter jacket to Jared’s high school basketball games if only it still fit. The Mother Nancy (Nicole Kidman) is the softer of the two, a true Southern belle hairdresser who’s open and perceptive and silenced by the men around her. Then there’s Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton), the conversion program’s incorrigible director. Unsurprisingly, Victor unveils himself to be, much like Marshall, a powerful and charismatic man who talks way more than he ever listens. In Boy Erased, the most powerful speakers tend to be those who are among the most ignorant of the truth.

Joel Edgerton has made a good movie, one that’s worth a watch and will rightfully be hailed as “vital” by those who inherently identify with the material. I sincerely hope that individuals grappling with the same issues of identity and hypocritical, faith-based environments find their way to this picture so that they will finally feel seen. Yet having said that, Boy Erased is no less of a disappointment to me, particularly due to the fact that the film sits on a goldmine of deep, tragic, personal stories and seemingly refuses to exert the effort to do a bit of digging. The title’s rather honest in this regard, because such thin dramatics are no match for a few swipes with the eraser.

“I need to know what’s inside.”

Rating: 3 out of 5

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