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Review: Boy Erased (TIFF 2018)

Boy Erased (TIFF 2018)
09.13.2018
6 10

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PLOT: The son (Lucas Hedges) of a Baptist preacher (Russell Crowe) is sent to a gay conversion therapy program.

REVIEW: I’ll say this for Joel Edgerton’s BOY ERASED, it stirred up strong emotions in me. Undeniably provocative and well-acted, I nonetheless had issues with what I felt was ultimately too soft a take on a dangerous, despicable practice that, in this critic’s opinion, is too easy on the parents who’d condemn their kids to a life that demands total denial of who they actually are.


It should be noted though that by all evidence Edgerton’s made a movie that’s faithful to author Garrard Conley’s story, although the characters here are all fictionalized. Probably my big issue with the ultimately redemptive way the parents are portrayed is that you never really get insight into what kind of people they are, making it impossible to sympathize with them in any real way. I think for a movie like this to work, equal emphasis would have had to have been placed on both Lucas Hedges’s character, Jared’s, home life and the conversion program, although the latter is clearly the driving force of the film.

To give Edgerton and company credit the fact that the movie made me so mad proves that its well-made. Even if I thought their characters were thin, Crowe and Kidman are excellent and initially sympathetic, until their deplorable reaction to their son coming out as gay, after which I thought both were insane. I’m not sure Edgerton’s movie is strong enough to convince me they could ever come around. The notes of redemption seem to have been added as an afterthought in order to keep it from being too much of a downer, making one wish a grittier approach had been taken. I would have rathered see the indie version of BOY ERASED than the studio, star-driven version.

Still, when the movie actually focuses on the conversion program, run by Joel Edgerton’s seemingly closeted Sykes, its pretty fascinating to see the tactics they use. They run the gamut from the utterly ridiculous, with Flea’s unbalanced ex-con counsellor demanding all the boys assume a triangular stance because it’s more powerful (and thus masculine) to the dangerous. This is shown in a scene where a boy is beaten by his family in order to “cast out” the demons they believe are making him gay.

Edgerton disappears into the part, striking both a banal and venal note as Sykes. However, the movie is built around Hedges’s performance, and he's striking. He really does evoke the conflict someone in his position would feel, having been raised by his close-minded parents to believe homosexuality is a sin, thus making his own feelings something he’s deeply disturbed by. He knows it’ll cost him his family. He’s utterly sympathetic and your heart breaks for him. However, that makes the ultimate choice to craft the third act around his attempts to mend fences with his parents questionable as it happens too fast. After what he’s shown to be going through you’ll despise them, even if they are played by Kidman and Crowe.

In the end, BOY ERASED is a fairly good film, but the ultimately redemptive note they try to strike didn’t seemed earned for me. However, I’m sure it’s a situation that would prove to be complicated in real life, as I’m sure there are plenty of gay people out there that eventually had to mend fences with their folks despite them being guilty of some things that are frankly unforgivable. Maybe that’s an idea that could have used a film of its own, but I suppose Edgerton only had so much time. He’s made a perfectly serviceable film that I’m sure will be comforting to a conservative audience that is maybe starting to see their error of their ways. I would have preferred to see a movie that’s a little angrier about this horrific practice and the terrible people that subject their kids to it.

 


 

Source: JoBlo.com

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