In Deep Impact/Armageddon tradition, Joel Edgerton’s sophomore directing effort is the second film about young people subjected to gay conversion therapy released in a matter of months. As such, Boy Erased cannot be assessed separately from The Miseducation of Cameron Post.
For Desiree Akhavan, the journey of the titular Cameron was intrinsically tied to her own experiences as a queer woman, making Miseducation a nuanced and personally-tinged musing on self-actualisation.
Edgerton – a straight man – fundamentally cannot invest himself personally in Jared’s (Lucas Hedges) arc, so Boy Erased has an observational slant for the benefit of straight audiences. Exposing the abuse and psychological torment afflicted on queer young people in institutions like this, it’s antithetical to Miseducation’s honest onscreen reflection of queer teen experiences.
Hedges acquits himself admirably, a rising star, but Edgerton is too preoccupied with his evangelical mission to properly flesh out his protagonist. Motivation comes second to ideology.
Most egregiously, authentic gay experience is sidelined. Moments of same-sex affection go no further than hand-holding, and sexual discovery is dangerously conflated with assault in one particularly violent scene – the film’s only moment of gay sexual contact.
Shifting objectively between past and present, events play out at arm’s length with Hedges working hard against Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe as Jared’s parents to elicit the genuine emotion lacking at the film’s core. The film’s denouement between Jared and a father desperately battling his belief system to reach out to his son stands out for its raw subversion of masculine insouciance.
Boy Erased chooses sympathy over empathy in its depiction of so-called gay conversion therapy. Unfailingly maudlin, Joel Edgerton keeps a cool distance and, though elevated by sterling performances from its leads, this results in a glaring disconnect between his moral crusade and its tangible value.
CAST: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Joel Edgerton, Troye Sivan
DIRECTOR: Joel Edgerton
WRITERS: Joel Edgerton (screenplay), Garrard Conley (based on the book by)
SYNOPSIS: The son of a Baptist preacher is forced to participate in a church-supported gay conversion program after being forcibly outed to his parents.