The Movie Waffler New to Netflix - BOY ERASED | The Movie Waffler

New to Netflix - BOY ERASED

boy erased review
A teenager's parents enrol him at a gay conversion therapy centre.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Joel Edgerton

Starring: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Joel Edgerton, Russell Crowe, Xavier Dolan, Joe Alwyn, Cherry Jones

boy erased poster

Like Desiree Akhavan's The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Joel Edgerton's Boy Erased is another drama that tackles the subject of gay conversion therapy, a process that somehow still prospers in many parts of the US.

Adapted (very loosely, I suspect) by writer/director Edgerton from Garrard Conley's memoirs, Boy Erased follows the struggle of Conley - renamed here as Jared Eamons and played by Lucas Hedges, who similarly essayed a closeted teen in Lady Bird - when his parents discover his true sexuality and enlist him in a 'pray the gay away' centre.

boy erased review

Looking like a demonic Ned Flanders with his button down clothes and trimmed moustache, Edgerton casts himself as Victor Sykes, the head of the centre. Defining anger as the truest form of masculinity, Sykes' methods revolve around inspiring rage in his pupils, and unless you're a religious fundamentalist you'll no doubt find yourself clenching your own fists as you watch him spout pseudo-science and psychologically torture his young charges.

As the film progressed however, I found myself growing more angry at Edgerton the filmmaker than the cartoon Christian conservative he was playing onscreen in such a black and white fashion. The movie comes from a liberal atheist viewpoint, as you might expect, but its contempt towards the religious rather than their beliefs feels cheap and misguided. Sykes and the staff at the centre are as villainous as the guards from a '70s women in prison movie, and their practices display a deep misunderstanding on Edgerton's part of how Christians behave. At one point a boy is physically beaten with a Bible, forcing you to wonder if Edgerton believes the Bible is more dangerous as a physical weapon than as a text. Sticks and stones may break my bones, Edgerton probably believes, whereas it's the words in the Bible that are so damaging to Christians' acceptance of homosexuality. By portraying the Christian staff of the reprehensible centre as such over the top monsters, who seem to have no motive beyond merely being evil, Edgerton lets Christianity itself off the hook. Don't hate the player, hate the game.

boy erased review

For a movie that purportedly condemns homophobia, it sends considerably mixed messages. The only representation of gay sex sees Jared overpowered and raped by his college roommate (Joe Alwyn), who subsequently confesses to having abused an underage boy! At the film's climax a piece of text lets us know that the real life Sykes now lives with his husband - so the most villainous character in the film is gay himself???

Edgerton fails to find a nuanced way to get inside the head of his young protagonist, resorting to theatrical moments like Jared hurling a trash can at a poster of a male model to portray his frustration. Midway through the film I honestly wasn't sure whether Edgerton wanted us to root for Jared to accept his sexuality or give in to the brainwashing of Sykes and his creepy cohorts (none more creepier than a dead-eyed psycho played by The Red Hot Chili Peppers' Flea). At times Edgerton's film seems more critical of the methods of gay conversion centres than of the concept itself.

boy erased review

The Miseducation of Cameron Post
was by no means the definitive take on this topic, but it wisely recognised the absurdity within the practice and played its drama as a black comedy. Not so Boy Erased, which is serious with a capital S and devoid of humanity save for a warm performance by Nicole Kidman as Jared's mother, who finds her loyalty to her church in conflict with her role as a protective mother. The boy's father (Russell Crowe) is a one-dimensional schlub who refuses to engage in any reconciliation with his son, yet the pictures of the real life Garrard Conley that pop up at the end show himself and his father in chummy poses, making it clear that Conley Snr did indeed find a way to reconcile his faith with his son's sexuality. That's a story I'd much rather watch than this one-sided polemic. But that's clearly not a narrative that fits into Edgerton's agenda.

Boy Erased is on Netflix UK now.