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Boy Erased Movie Review

Performances are Key in 'Boy Erased'

By mere happenstance, director Joel Edgerton's "Boy Erased" is the second movie this year to deal with teenagers who are sent to gay conversion therapy in the hopes of "being cured." Earlier this year, "The Miseducation of Cameron Post" took the top prize at Sundance, and now "Boy Erased" is certainly in play for year-end awards.

The idea of gay conversion therapy is maddening and dangerously regressive, but two movies have now put it in the spotlight as something that still exists today. Edgerton's "Boy Erased" is likely to resonate with a lot of people and, like most movies should, start an important conversation. This is why it's rather frustrating that the movie as a whole feels somewhat distant and, at times, a bit too mechanical.

The movie essentially starts in the middle of its story with Jared (Lucas Hedges, "Manchester By the Sea") eating a quiet and tension-filled breakfast with his mother Nancy (Nicole Kidman, "The Killing of a Sacred Deer") and his preacher father Marshall (Russell Crowe, "The Nice Guys").  Nancy is preparing to drive Jared to a facility that "helps" people who "think they are gay." The program is led by Victor Sykes (Edgerton, "It Comes at Night"), who proselytizes with great vigor about ridding the attendees of their alleged sins.

As any teenager would be, Jared is scared and confused as to why he is at the facility, but being the son of an Arkansas Baptist preacher doesn't leave him much choice. In a later scene when Jared tells his parents he "thinks about men," Marshall is quick to have fellow pastors come to their home like they are preparing to perform an exorcism on his son. Even so, what "Boy Erased" does rather magnificently is not create villains out of Nancy and Marshall when it could have been so easy to do so. It's a fine line to walk but the movie doesn't make excuses for them or point its finger at them. It merely presents the story and the different viewpoints of everyone involved.

Edgerton, who adapted the screenplay from the memoir by Garrard Conley, plays with the timeline and structure of the film, starting in the middle and working backwards then forward. The movie finds Jared in high school, at the camp, and in college at various different points throughout. The non-linear structure takes a while to find its rhythm, which costs the movie some emotional investment from the audience. At a certain point, the movie feels like Jared is reflecting through the early years of his life and his struggles with his identity, but that comes after a haphazard checklist of important scenes.

Even at its most distancing, the performances in "Boy Erased" are deeply felt and will keep you in the movie. Hedges is one of the best young actors working today and he conveys every bit of Jared's experience with pure naturalism. No one exudes motherly warmth like Kidman, who plays a woman caught between religion and her deep love for her son. Crowe is the best he has been in ages, creating a human out of someone we might be inclined to hate. Kidman and Crowe are each given a few scenes to evoke emotion and understanding for their characters but Hedges is the film's emotional anchor.

It's hard to say the imperfections of "Boy Erased" should keep you from seeing the movie because it's likely to start an important conversation. The ideas presented in the film may seem outlandish and archaic but the final title cards inform us how relevant this movie is.

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