An Affecting But Dimly-Lit Gay Conversion Therapy Drama
I saw the Boy Erased movie. Despite the title, this isn’t a sequel to Girl, Interrupted. I told my teenage son I was going to see it. He said, “Why are all movies about gay teenagers now?” Obviously, he feels defensive and left out because all the girls in his school swoon over Love, Simon. But the two movies couldn’t be more different in tone.
Love, Simon, a charming, brightly-lit comedy about an All-American boy in California who comes out as gay to universal acceptance, ends with Simon holding hands with his sweetheart on a ferris wheel while everyone applauds. Boy Erased, a grim, darkly-lit drama about an All-American boy who gets raped by his friend at college in Arkansas, begins with him getting sent to gay conversion therapy by his bigoted preacher father. The film doesn’t include a laugh track.
Lucas Hedges plays the boy, Jared, sensitively and with restraint. God has cursed him with sinful desires, a mom who’s Nicole Kidman in a bad wig, and a dad who’s fat Christian Russell Crowe. Mom drives him to a sketchy center run by a seedy, repressed man with a mustache. Jared does a “moral inventory” like in Alcoholics Anonymous but without the tolerance. He witnesses the shaming of young lesbians, the near-murder of an effeminate kid in a batting cage, and the horrifying spectacle of a fat kid getting beaten with Bibles. At no point does anyone tell him that things are going to be OK if he just stays gay.
BOY ERASED ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Joel Edgerton
Written by: Joel Edgerton, Garrard Conley (based on the memoir Boy Erased by)
Starring: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe
Running time: 114 min.
Boy Erased exists to shine a light on the horrors of conversion therapy. It does so very effectively. The director, Joel Edgerton, presents the scenes at the conversion center without adornment, and with minimal music. The people there are haunted, serious, desperate, and confused. No one gets a happy ending or a reprieve. Instead, they’re trapped with crazies who are dealing with their own issues in the guise of a twisted interpretation of Christianity. It’s an ongoing nightmare, as much of a stain on our culture as the Tuskegee experiments.
That said, Edgerton has constructed the movie in a way that limits the drama and the horror. Endless flashbacks, important as they might be to the story, stop its momentum. There’s too much sappy music and too many scenes of people walking in slow motion. Some of the scenes seem so dimly-lit, you wonder if they ran out of a budget for lightbulbs. A coda where Jared has become a grown man crusading for LGBTQ rights in New York City, however true to life, goes on too long and saps the narrative again. It’s a little boring by the end, and it shouldn’t be.
Kidman, the Australian Meryl Streep, will probably get an Oscar nomination. Hedges and Crowe also might. This movie, dutiful and almost very good, will finally call widespread public attention to the injustice of gay conversion therapy. But at the very least, it will confirm a truth that every true Texan knows in their hearts: Arkansas sucks.
This concludes my review of the Boy Erased movie.