Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Lucas Hedges (MID90S , LADY BIRD , MANCHESTER BY THE SEA , and upcoming films BEN IS BACK  and HONEY BOY ), Nicole Kidman (HOW TO TALK TO GIRLS AT PARTIES , THE BEGUILED , LION , SECRET IN THEIR EYES , THE OTHERS , and upcoming films AQUAMAN  and DESTROYER ), Russell Crowe (THE MUMMY , THE NICE GUYS , WATER DIVINER , and MAN OF STEEL ), and Joel Edgerton (GRINGO , IT COMES AT NIGHT , LOVING , THE GIFT , Star Wars EPISODE II  and EPISODE III , and the upcoming THE KING ).
In support, we have Madelyn Cline (2 episodes of STRANGER THINGS [2016 – ongoing], and upcoming films WHAT BREAKS THE ICE  and ONCE UPON A TIME IN STATEN ISLAND ), Joe Alwyn (OPERATION FINALE , SENSE OF AN ENDING , BILLY LYNN , and upcoming films THE FAVOURITE  and MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS ), and Cherry Jones (THE PARTY , I SAW THE LIGHT , and upcoming films MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN  and A RAINY DAY IN NEW YORK ).
Now for the crew. Writing and directing is Joel Edgerton, known for THE GIFT. Co-composing the score are Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans, both known for THE GIFT, and the upcoming THE WOLF HOUR (2019). The cinematographer is Edward Grau, known for GRINGO. Finally, the editor is Jay Rabinowitz, known for THE FOUNTAIN (2006) and REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (2000).
Already saw the movie, so let’s get a move on.
This is my honest opinion of: BOY ERASED
Set in Arkansas. Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges) is a teenager living in a very Christian home and is being sent to a homosexual program to expunge his homosexuality tendencies.
I really hate falling behind on my reviews. Okay, so going through the proverbial filing cabinet that are my memories, my knee-jerk reaction is that it’s the better of the “gay camp” movies that came out this year… which I can only name one other.
Looking back, I can’t say that this is Hedges’ best performance. Not that he’s bad in it, per se, but I think the movie, intentional or not, made him more of an observer than a participant in the story. This may be more of an issue for the beginning of the movie, as his personality manifests better later on as he grows more defiant of the rules. I just think he had more to chew on in MANCHESTER than he did here. I mean, this movie teased the idea that Jared legitimately wanted to change and be “normal,” but I don’t think this was ever backed up in any meaningful way. I don’t exactly see him throwing himself to the program, taking everything in with open arms, and putting forth that effort to convert, but still struggling with his natural urges. He’s just not as compelling as it should be.
I remember enjoying how this gay-conversion camp was actually effective in its portrayal of compassion compared to something like CAMERON POST, where the movie is almost blatantly evil toward its views of homosexuality. Victor Sykes (Edgerton) certainly comes across as a dude who really thinks he has everyone’s best interests at heart. An analogy that he had is showing off a dollar bill and saying things like, the dollar is still worth its full amount, even if the corner is ripped, or completely torn in half. Obvious misinformation, but it’s a manipulation that you can see working in another environment. However, at some point in the movie the illusion drops hard and he starts yelling at everyone and even tries to illegally bar Jared from leaving the grounds, which was a shame. It’s such a shift in character that it almost ruins the performance. Not completely, as Edgerton is far too competent for that, but it is a flaw in the direction, in my opinion.
It’s time to talk about… that scene. Fair warning, this next paragraph is going to go into a non-spoiler scene that is graphic and disturbing, so read ahead at your own risk. Jared is raped by another boy, Henry (Joe Alwyn). Now don’t get me wrong, I think a scene like this is important to show that anyone, of all different sexual orientations, are capable of rape. It’s not exclusive to men. So while the scene is powerful and poignant, what follows doesn’t feel as engaging. Like, all Henry does is ask Jared not to say anything, otherwise he’ll get into big trouble. Um… yeah, duh. He just raped Jared. Choices, consequences, this is grade-school philosophy. And I know, I know there’s an abundance of reasons why victims don’t come forward and speak out against their attackers, but I don’t think a “please don’t” is a strong enough reason. There’s threats against family and friends, ruined reputations. There’s public knowledge and self-perceived humiliation, and even the simple question of, “what if no one believes me?” But I don’t think Jared’s motivations for keeping quiet were really explored. He simply complies. And go figure, Henry’s the one who spins the story and makes it look like Jared attacked him and even his father doesn’t seem to full believe him. I just feel like a scene like that has to encompass all angles, not just the direct one. And really, give the movie half an hour, the rape scene is almost never referenced again and it’s not like Jared is shown to have been terribly affected by the event. I get that this movie is trying to cover the real Garrard Conley’s entire experience in the program, but this feels like a pretty big thing that dwarfs all other concerns in the movie. It doesn’t, but… mmph, I feel like it could have been pushed a little further and really do something that not other films really do well.
Here’s a list of my smaller issues with the flick.
- An earlier problem that I was having with the story was how unclear motivations were. As in, I didn’t fully understand if Jared was in that camp of his own free will, or if he was being forced into it. Yes, everything is revealed later on, but this feels like information could have been easily and quickly dropped in the beginning, instead of using random flashbacks.
- I wasn’t digging the score. I felt like it wasn’t appropriate and would have been more suited to a Pixar movie than a heavy drama about gay conversion.
But I can’t keep ragging on the movie forever. I do have my positives.
My favorite performances and characters is Nicole Kidman as Nancy, Jared’s mom. Despite Nancy’s Christian beliefs, you can tell that she’s not entirely on board with sending Jared to this camp. Her beliefs prevent her from being completely opposed, but you can tell that there’s some genuine love and a desire for protection for her son. She even has her own arc of learning to argue with Marshall and his methods of handling the situation with Jared. My favorite line from her is when she explains to Jared how she’s spent her marriage with Marshall as almost subservient (not really, but you know what I mean), but then she comes out and says, “He can fall in line with me for a change.” Hell yeah, Nicole! Some of my favorite moments are when she’s driving with Jared. He likes to stick his hand out the window, but she’s so anxious when he does it, constantly thinking that a car will drive by and rip it off, despite how rare that actually is. Of course, one of the final scenes is her sending him a newspaper clipping of showing how a kid got his arm ripped off when it was hanging out a window. It’s mean, but me and everyone in my auditorium laughed.
Now that I’m thinking about it, the only other great character that I felt the most for was Cameron (Britton Sear), who is this overweight young man who seems to be particularly harassed by Sykes. I forget the particulars, but Cameron’s family drags the poor kid into the building where the conversion program is held and is forced to undergo a string of Bible beatings from his family. This scene is so painful watch that they even force this little girl, who clearly doesn’t want to hurt him, to take that same Bible and hit him with it. I’ve seen horror films that accomplish less than what this scene did for me. <<<SPOILERS – highlight to reveal>>> [ But all that made for arguably one of the most satisfying conclusions to the movie. Jared’s being cornered by the counselors and, again I forget the specifics, but they’re trying to prevent him from leaving. Jared manages to call his mother to pick him up, to which she rushes to see him, but unable to actually get to him via a locked door. By this point, Jared’s on the ground being yelled at, Sykes is trying to tell a frantic Nancy that all of this is normal and part of the program, and the only person who helps Jared get free of everyone is Cameron. He pulls Jared up and takes him to his mom. This was one of the best proverbial middle fingers I’ve seen out of a movie like this in a long while, and it still brings a smile to my face. Up until I read in the credits that the real Sykes was gay himself and ended up getting married to another man. That’s a magical kind of justice right there. Of course, Cameron does later commit suicide, which was heartbreaking, but that boy had a strong sense of justice and right and wrong. If this was based on a real person, I hope he’s resting in peace. ] <<<END SPOILERS>>>
You know what really grinds my gears? Men thinking that a firm handshake is manly. I can’t stand men like that. It’s like, I could have easily not shaken your hand. In my book, that’s a sign of no respect. A handshake is a sign of respect. However, I would prefer no handshake over a firm one. Why? A firm handshake to me is initiating a pissing contest. It’s a quick judgment to see who’s more manly, when it should be about a simple greeting. It’s fake respect, especially when the initiator comments on the other’s. At least a blatant show of no respect can be interpreted as honest. I know that this movie does this only once and only for a second, but the fact that it’s done at all really boiled by blood and got me immersed in my own hatred for this program that Jared is going through. On this note, do these kinds of places actually believe that “gang affiliation” contributes to homosexuality?? I mean, fine, drugs and alcohol affect the brain, so I can see someone freaking out about that. Definitely movies, TV, music, and books have been blamed even in bygone decades. But “gang affiliation”? Shit, bro, that’s a new one even to me. It’s almost hilarious.
A detail that I enjoyed is that this program isn’t constantly portrayed like every parent is on board with their methods. There’s a scene where the counselors are trying to get the boys in a baseball batting cage. One of them is this scrawny, squirrely kid who’s too afraid to swing at the ball and, I think, ends up getting hit with a couple. Nothing serious, but the next scene is his mother taking him out of the program clearly angry as hell. This wasn’t a major character or anything, but it’s nice to know that it isn’t just one character who ends up getting pulled out.
Overall, this movie has some truly great qualities. Kidman’s performance and her character, Cameron as a supporting character, the acting in general, and some choice scenes are quite powerful and even important. My issues with the film lie in how thin Jared is written and certain motivations don’t always make sense. Far from a bad movie, but things could have been pushed further to make it far better. As a recommendation, I say it’s worth checking out, but more as a rental than anything else. I can see someone really liking this, and I like some aspects myself, but it’s not a consistently good package.
My honest rating for BOY ERASED: a strong 3/5
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