TL;DR – This is at times a very difficult film to watch, but it is an important film because abuse is abuse and that is what this is.
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
There are many reasons you can make a film, okay well other than making a profit, it is a business after all. It can be to entertain, it can be to inform, it can be to titillate, it could be to scare, or even to keep the kids entertained for 90 minutes so the parents can clean the house. However, sometimes a film exists to shine a light on a subject people might not know about, but they should. Today with Boy Erased we are looking a just such a film as explores the Pray the Gay Away industry in the United States and the dangerous harm it does to people.
So to set the scene, we open in on a family getting ready for the day before the sun has risen. There is a lot of tension in the Eamon family and you can see it during the quiet breakfast where the son Jared (Lucas Hedges) and the father Marshall (Russell Crowe) are clearly not speaking with each other before Jared and his mother Nancy (Nicole Kidman) leave under the cover of darkness for a drive into the city. Soon they arrive at a facility and as Jared is processed in you start to get the sense of it, oh this is a drug treatment program that’s why everything is so strained. However, we soon find out this is not the case, because Jared is not at this facility because he is abusing drugs, he is here because he is gay because this is a place where you can go to try and change your sexual orientation, and then things get much worse from that point onwards.
The first thing you notice and will live with you for a long time is the performances. Lucas Hedges is one of those actors that has been in some really interesting films sort of touching on these themes of growing up like Lady Bird and Manchester by the Sea, but here he really shows the progression he is making as an actor. It is heart-breaking and compelling and as the audience surrogate he brings you into the story and you can’t help but be caught up in it. Also, there are some very, very difficult scenes in this film that I can image were equally difficult to film. I would not be all surprised if Lucas gets his second Oscar nomination from this film and it will be completely earned.
This is, of course, added too when you have such consummate professionals in Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe and Joel Edgerton playing the key overseer roles in the film. Nicole is the mother that is deeply concerned about her son and who is with him through it all which is both a blessing and a curse. However, this also allows he her to show a lot of growth over the film. Russell Crowe is playing someone who is both a father and the head of the local Baptist church who is looking at the situation more in the how does this affect me mentality. His performance is so spot on, where he is almost imitating a pastor I know, to the point that now I am wondering if someone I know secretly knows Russell Crowe. Finally, with Joel Edgerton, who had a number of different hats in the creation of the film. As the leader of the facility he is driving the encounters, but there is a barely contained rage behind this well-structured exterior presence. There are also some really strong performances from the supporting cast at the facility that immediately make you care for these people going through this process.
From a production point of view, I think the film is really strong, with all the different components coming into play. I liked the musical score that knew just when to come in and create that tension with those high strings but also when to disappear completely from the scene. From an editing perspective, they knew when to have that longer take when that close up insert is needed, and when to cut away. The details were also spot on, for example, we see a couple of different styles of church service in this film and they completely capture the vibe of how those services work. There is some really great direction work from Joel, who is showing that he is a director that you have to take seriously. All of this allows the film to build suspense and atmosphere and really helps the story develop.
The other key highlight of the film is the story, and to talk about the story there will be some [SPOILERS] ahead. The story is told from two different timeframes, there is the current experiences of Jared in the facility but then we also flashback to the many different points in his life that led to here, including moments of love, and of deep betrayal. This gives a real sense of context, and also of Jared’s shifting mindset, especially after it is revealed as to just why he is there. What is interesting for me is how a lot of the story is actually told through sub-text, like say the time setting of the film that you can get from the clothes and phones. As well as this, there is a lot you get from character motivations just from their actions, like how Jared, unprompted, goes and opens the door for his mother.
There were a couple of things which make me feel like the story did not quite stick the landing for me. For example, there is a character in the film which I knew the conclusion of their arc from very early on because it was overplayed a bit too much. Also while there was a resolution in regards to the family, but there was a lot of setting up plot threads with the other young people that just felt like they got dropped at the end, unless I missed something, which was a bit disappointing. However, these are very small issues in what is overall a strong film.
In the end, Boy Erased is a very difficult film to watch at times. As a person of faith, it is hard to watch scripture be twisted into becoming a weapon of abuse but this is the reality for many. The film is confronting and will leave you in all different stages of anger at the many cases of abuse of trust that occur. However, like many films dealing with confronting subject material, while it is a difficult film to watch, it is a film that you should watch at least once.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Boy Erased
Directed by – Joel Edgerton
Screenplay by – Joel Edgerton
Based on – Boy Erased: A Memoir by Garrard Conley
Music by –Danny Bensi & Saunder Jurriaans
Cinematography by – Eduard Grau
Edited by –Jay Rabinowitz
Starring – Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Joel Edgerton, Joe Alwyn, Xavier Dolan, Troye Sivan, Cherry Jones, Flea, Britton Sear, Madelyn Cline, Emily Hinkler, Jesse LaTourette, David Joseph Craig, Théodore Pellerin, Matt Burke & David Ditmore
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; Germany: 12; New Zealand: na; United Kingdom: na; United States: R