Boy Erased

Nash and Joel Edgerton are two of the most underrated guys making movies today. These brothers from Australia have given us some great films. I won’t list them all, except to say I’ve seen over 50,000 movies, and their film The Square (from 2008 not the 2017 film) is one of the best I’ve ever seen. And Gringo from earlier this year didn’t get a fair shake from the critics. Anyway, Boy Erased is written, directed, and co-starring Joel Edgerton (Nash is involved behind the scenes). It tackles the issue of conversion therapy. A few months ago, the disappointing The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Chloe Grace Moretz) also covered the same ground. It’s interesting that Edgerton took a caring approach to this subject matter, yet never gets too melodramatic.

Lucas Hedges, who earned an Oscar nomination for Manchester by the Sea, and was brilliant in Ladybird (you can currently see him in mid90s), plays Jared. He’s a high school senior that’s the all-American boy. He plays on the basketball team. He dates a cheerleader. He has a loving family, and even works part-time at the car dealership his dad owns.

The dad is played Russell Crowe, and it’s the only performance in the movie that didn’t work for me. I felt he was miscast (he also looked a lot like John Goodman).

He not only runs a successful business, he’s a Baptist minister. That would probably make a father a bit more on the strict side when it comes to raising children. It’s certainly a lot tougher when it comes to a child telling their parents they might be gay.

Nicole Kidman, who played a grieving mom wonderfully in Rabbit Hole, does a terrific job in this as the faithful wife and supportive mom. It’s a shame that she seemingly agrees with her husband that conversion therapy is the way to go for Jared.

What’s interesting about this true story is that Jared gives this conversion therapy the ol’ college try. He actually starts going to college, and is checked into a facility where they can try to reprogram him. He’s a smart kid, and quickly realizes how insane the whole process is. But again, he’s trying to make it work. That’s harder when you have some people at the facility that are horrible. One of those people would be a former drug addict, played by Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea. He seems like such a natural as he barks orders at kids like a drill sergeant in the Army. There’s a scene where he calls Jared a gay slur in the bathroom, that just breaks your heart; partly because the head counselor of this facility is played by Joel Edgerton as a nice guy. Because I’ve seen so many movies, I was waiting for the villainous tropes to rear their ugly heads. It was my wife that pointed out to me, he’s not a bad person, just misguided. Some of the things he was doing with the kids are things psychiatrists do to help their patients. He has them talk about not getting along with their parents and other cathartic things. The problem is these counselors believe this hogwash. So what he’s doing really isn’t helping the people there, but making matters worse. That doesn’t make him a Nurse Ratched, though. And the film is much more interesting for that. It’s also neat to witness Jared come to grips with his dad, yet never wavering in his love for his father.

A few critics I’ve seen commenting on this movie are getting all that wrong. They’re saying that the film doesn’t get dark enough. Well, it’s Jared’s true story. And I’d say…the rape scene in this is about as dark as you can get. It’s one of the most powerful scenes you’ll see all year.

Another critic said that all the characters are palatable to placate the side they might offend. Again, an idiotic statement. This is true story that’s a bit understated. Edgerton never turns it into Lifetime TV movie drivel.

It was interesting to meet some of the other kids staying at the facility. It was also interesting to think about what this does to families as well. It’s a safe bet that 0% of these conversion therapies work (despite some people that have gone through them trying to convince themselves and others that they do). So to watch how Jared handles his family during the whole process is intriguing.

It’s smart that these characters aren’t one-dimensional. Another filmmaker would have tempted to make the father a horrible person, and over the top. Or, make him turn around completely and accept his son at the end. Yet how realistic are either of those scenarios?

I was lucky enough to catch this on the closing night of the San Diego International Film Festival. You’ll be lucky enough to catch it this weekend in Hillcrest, or at the Angelika Film Center in Carmel Mountain Ranch.

3 ½ stars out of 5.