Joel Edgerton (The Gift) brings Garrard Conley’s true story of dangerous, misguided gay conversion therapy to the big screen with the help of Oscar winners Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe. Oscar nominee Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea) plays Conley in the film, a young teen who is pressured to confess his homosexuality to his baptist preacher father (Crowe) and loving mother (Kidman). With only the best intentions in all three characters’ hearts, Conley is taken to a church-supported group therapy retreat run by a man (played by Edgerton) who has no doctor’s license of any kind. The practice is suspect and eventually becomes dangerous. When Conley pleads for his mother’s help escaping the therapy, she obliges, and reaffirms her love for her son — gayness and all. But will dad ever turn around?
You might successfully predict some of what happens in Boy Erased. But since this is a true story, and an important one of considerable social bearing, I don’t mind if it’s a bit predictable. Especially since there are also a few things I wasn’t expecting. The way a same-sex sexual assault is portrayed is gut-wrenching in more ways than I imagined. And the final act, once the therapy is over, is where the film really shines. The scenes in which father and son attempt reconciliation are handled remarkably well and are some of the most genuinely moving I can remember in any movie in a long time. Hedges and Crowe are captivating in their scenes together. My heart broke for both characters. I give the film extra kudos for making Crowe’s character sympathetic — he’s certainly not a villain, just an antagonistic force. But most certainly a human one. It may be the best acting I’ve ever seen from Russell Crowe.
Kidman gets a few good scenes to show her chops, too, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea is memorable in an aggressive supporting role. Props also to the naturalistic cinematography and the soulful end title song performed by Troye Sivan & Jónsi.