In Boy Erased, based on the memoir of the same name, Joel Edgerton directs a wonderful cast in a heartfelt story of lives impacted by gay conversion therapy. The central trio of actors are absolutely wonderful. Lucas Hedges continues to impress me more with every performance I see from him and he has a beautiful vulnerability here, but he’s also able to effectively take us on a journey of growth and change for his character. Nicole Kidman is wonderful as his troubled mother, a woman going along with things because she doesn’t know any better. Russell Crowe, in my opinion, gives the performance of the movie as the main character’s father, a Baptist minister thrown into confusion and uncertainty when his son comes out. It’s a great performance because it humanizes a man that is wrong and even hateful at times in his actions, never from hateful motives but only because he is wrong in what he believes. For all of the harrowing time spent at the gay conversion camp, the most impactful scene for me was the final scene between Hedges & Crowe as the two men try, as best as they can, to find their way to a reunion, to some sort of difficult healing. It would be easy to make Crowe’s character a cartoon character, but Crowe’s performance won’t allow that. Edgerton has saved the cartoonish role for himself and he’s not particularly good as the leader of the gay conversion camp; he has some effective moments, but he never quite comes across as human and, given what we ultimately find out about the character, it would have been great to have shown the character having some sort of personal struggle of his own. That could have added yet another layer to the film. Some of the small parts are filled with actors that aren’t all that effective or are perhaps just giving kind of cliched performances. Joe Alwyn is an exception as a hunky athlete that the main character encounters in college; he has an appealing charisma but then he’s very frightening and unsettling when the script needs him to be. I struggled a bit with the look of the film. There’s an odd kind of sheen to the movie; it somehow has a made-for-TV feeling to it. It’s hard to quantify, but the look of the film isn’t particularly cinematic for some reason and it had the look, if not the lack of depth, of a Lifetime miniseries. I figure this is intentional for some reason; Edgerton has directed films that didn’t look like this and I think he’s able to get the look he wants for a movie. I found it disorienting for some reason. Anyway, at the end of the day, this isn’t one of Edgerton’s best films or anything, as either director or actor. It’s got a few mediocre performances and, while it’s very heartfelt, the script has a few clunkers as well in terms of weak characters and occasionally clumsy dialogue. But I like that the film manages to have a hopeful ending without becoming trite or saccharine. The three central characters are wonderfully written and performed flawlessly. For those reasons, the film overcomes many of its flaws to become a very good film, even if it can’t quite muster the strength to be great. 3 ½ stars.
tl;dr – a trio of wonderful performances anchor this difficult, painful film; a few missteps and some weak performances on the edges detract, but not too much. 3 ½ stars.