Caught between family and faith in Boy Erased
Starring Lucas Hedges, Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman. Directed by Joel Edgerton. Opens Friday in limited release. 114 minutes.
It’s taken a long time for Western culture to mostly come around to the understanding that sexual orientation is as innate as eye colour.
But there still persists among a small community of conservative Christians (and other faiths) that it is mutable and that is the issue Boy Erased tackles with poignancy and a respect for points of view that would appear to be irreconcilable.
Based on a true story (with the names slightly altered) by actor/director Joel Edgerton, the film boasts a range of great performances by fine actors, including the up-and-coming and soon to be ubiquitous Lucas Hedges. It also offers a screenplay penned by Edgerton that treats the subject and its opposing views with care and consideration.
Hedges plays Jared, a Southern boy raised in a loving Christian home who realizes with the greatest of sorrow that he is not attracted to the opposite sex. But Jared would probably have been content to keep his secret to himself in the short term until he is cruelly “outed” by a college roommate who rapes him and then accuses him of initiating the act.
When forced to tell the truth to his parents, his pained father, a Baptist preacher and car salesman, tells him he must go into a Christian gay conversion program or face permanent exile. His mother acquiesces and so does Jared.
Edgerton also plays Victor, the head of the program, with a modicum of restraint. His methods are plainly absurd and ineffective, but Edgerton doesn’t turn him into a cartoonish villain, merely a well-meaning but very misguided individual. (Stick around for the film’s postscript.)
Hedges presents a believable and empathetic portrait of a tormented youth who struggles with his faith, his intellect and his instinct. But it’s the performances by Russell Crowe as his father, Marshall, and Nicole Kidman as mother Nancy that are the most revelatory. Crowe plays Marshall as a man of deep faith struggling to find a path to love and acceptance, and Kidman is truly wonderful as a mother who quietly negotiates the middle ground between husband and son until she must ultimately take a stand.
YouTube star Troye Sivan delivers a sweet performance as fellow inmate Gary and Quebecois filmmaker Xavier Dolan delivers an arch one as the more dangerous Jon.
Edgerton does a fine job throughout of presenting the opposing views in the debate (though the film clearly takes a side) and that’s probably one of the film’s most redeeming features, that it refuses to sneer at the conservative Christian perspective even as it powerfully debunks the case for gay conversion therapy.
Add to that a slew of solid and heartfelt performances, and you have an intelligent and emotionally charged film that will appeal to just about everyone.