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Review: Boy Erased

Rosie Hough examines Joel Edgerton's new film starring Lucas Hedges and Nicole Kidman that is, if anything, highly controversial

Photo Credit: Focus Features


Director: Joel Edgerton

Starring: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman and Joel Edgerton  

Length: 1h 55min

Boy Erased is the next film to join what in my opinion is an oversaturated market of gay conversion films along with The Miseducation of Cameron Post. Boy Erased appealed to me greatly, the trailer pitched it as a piece of cinema that seemed to feature some strong actors and had an emotionally engaging story line. Unfortunately it really missed the mark.

The film is based on the 2016 memoir of Garrard Conley’s experiences of a 12 day gay conversion therapy program. We watch as Jared (Hedges) realises his homosexual feelings and then the following heartbreak when his mother and father (Nicole Kidman and Russel Crowe) discover this fact. His father is a Baptist preacher in Arkansas and the majority of the film is watching Jared battle with the facts that he feels he has let his faith and church down. Throughout the film we are treated to little excerpts from Jared’s life before the therapy. I wish more of the film was spent on this sections as it became very difficult to empathise with his character having not known his past.

I believe the writing and the story is what really let this film down. For a film about gay conversion therapy it was really lacking some love and empathy.  The terms on which Jared enters into the conversion therapy are painful, the audience is shown a pretty horrific rape scene which personally surprised me being included in the 15 rating certification. The reaction from his parents and watching Jared’s life fall apart is poorly written and paced. Almost no time is spent exploring Jared’s relationship with his mother or father which is the largest conundrum of the story. Is this boy willing to give up a part of himself in order to please the people he loves?

 The film ends with an awkward ‘tying up of strings’ sequence. The second ‘four years later’ flashed across the screen, I felt disappointed that they felt the need to squeeze in some more character development that they were unable to depict previously. I feel a lot of the issues with story is because it was based on a memoir. Edgerton read the memoir himself and felt it had to be made into a film for propaganda purposes by the sounds of it. He hopes that the film becomes ‘redundant as soon as possible’ (BBC), and having heard him say this I see how the film has ended up the way it has. It somehow rushes through the emotions of the characters whilst dragging out some useless scenes within the conversion therapy church. The focus on the workings of the conversion therapy clearly has the motivations to spread awareness and shock that this still continues to occur in 41 states. But Edgerton seems to forget that this is not a documentary, it is a film and he should have employed some other techniques to portray the heartache that goes with attending this therapy. 

 There were two redeeming qualities of this film – the main one being the incredible score, but after this the acting was relatively good. Hedges seemed to continue the role of Danny O’Neill that he held in Ladybird. This typecasting is not uncommon and I do think he fitted the role of Jared. He was supported fantastically by Kidman, who I wish had featured more in this film. Both Kidman and Crowe gave some really good performances but simply did not appear enough to be able to carry the film. Edgerton was fantastic – incredibly convincing and sincere, he should probably stick to acting in the future as he is clearly very talented. Xavier Dolan continues to infiltrate Hollywood with another stellar performance and the cameos from Troye Sivan and Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers) were both surprisingly good.


Photo Credit: Focus Features

Sivan also wrote ‘Revelation’ for the film which got nominated for a Golden Globe. The scene in which the song was featured was my favourite of the film – it unfortunately got cut short as with most of the other relationship building scenes in the film. Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans composed an original score for the film which gave it a level of sophistication that The Miseducation of Cameron Post really lacked. The music fit the story and setting beautifully, and I am slightly surprised that this has not been picked up in the awards nominations for the film.

I realise the tone of this article does not match the 5 out of 10 scoring I have given it. I felt I couldn’t give it much lower for multiple reasons. Surprisingly a lot of critiques have given it 3 or 4 stars (out of 5), and I feel this is majorly to do with the subject matter. It is an important story to put across and the therapy depicted was shocking – for this reason I have given it a 5. A trend seems to be arising amongst the films I have seen this year (Colette, Mary Queen of Scots) in that the story being told has the potential to be incredibly interesting but the execution of the film lacks substance and verve. I hope this subsides to reveal some better films later in the year because so far the cinema of 2019 has disappointed me.


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