Cinematic Releases: Boy Erased (2018) - Reviewed

After receiving critical acclaim for his feature directorial debut, The Gift, Joel Edgerton has returned again as both director and actor for Boy Erased, an adaptation of the same name chronicling Garrard Conley's teenage experience at a conversion therapy camp, following his outing as a homosexual.  Lucas Hedges, who has made notoriety for playing pivotal supporting roles in a string of critical darlings the past several years finds himself in the lead role this time, surrounded by industry veterans such as Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman, and of course Joel Edgerton as the leader of the conversion therapy camp.  

The film jumps back and forth between various pivotal moments in Jared's (the names are changed in the film) life.  Such moments include the transition from high school to college, with a look at Jared's complicated feelings concerning his sexuality, as well as his relationship with his parents, especially of that with his overtly religious preacher father, played by Russell Crowe.  Jared's relationship with his parents is important to him, thus making his budding homosexuality troubling as he struggles to remain in their good graces while also coming to grips with his own identity.  It breaks your heart to watch him even concede to attempt the so-called "therapy" that his father has suggested.  I found myself resisting the urge to yell at the screen: "NO!  Don't give in!  Make them accept you for who you are!"  But of course, you have to see that Jared isn't ready to lose his family as easily as the audience might be.  He cares deeply for his parents, and he's willing to try anything to maintain that relationship, despite our urging for him to tell them off right then and there for not supporting his life choices.

Joel Edgerton's character Mr. Sykes; lords over the conversion camp, all under the guise of being there to 'help' the attendees.  The film makes sure to shine a spotlight on the Christian imagery as Mr. Sykes proclaims that these so-called values are the path to healing everyone of their lives of sin, and guide them back to a life of virtue.  The pained expressions on the attendee's faces reveal anything but hope as they struggle to make it through the program, striving to sacrifice their own peace in exchange for that of the families that placed them there.  The more time the film dwells on the conversion camp, the more your heart pours open for everyone stuck in this hell.  As an audience member, you can't even seek relief in the thought that is just a movie.  These places are in fact, real, and they are stuffed with real individuals struggling to make it through.

Emotion is the key to making this film work.  On a technical level, everything in this film is fairly standard.  It's the way it makes the audience feel, that sticks out.  Throughout the screening I attended, everyone in the theater would react with unanimous emotion to the story unfolding onscreen.  You can't help but feel for Jared, and all of his peers as all the adults in their lives pull them this way and that.  It's incredibly frustrating to watch Mr. Sykes and company inflict their fundamentalist beliefs, or more appropriately, their insecurities upon Jared and everyone else throughout this film.  It should be said however, that this film isn't all sorrow.  Boy Erased does display some semblance of hope, and the thought that people can change for the better, just not necessarily the better that certain characters expect.  One thing is made abundantly clear by the end of the story; there has been progress, yet there is still much work to be done.

 --Derek Miranda