'Boy Erased' film review: Well-intentioned, heavy handed & predictable.
Despite a strong trio of performances, the controversial practice of gay conversion programs deserves a better film than "Boy Erased" (opening in theaters Nov. 9).
In short: Baptist preacher (Russell Crowe) and his wife (Nicole Kidman) forces their college-aged son Jared (Lucas Hedges) to either enter a church-supported gay conversion program or be exiled from the family.
"Boy Erased" effectively grounds the story in Jared's frustrations - that his family is forcing to choose between his family and his truth. That his father chooses to believe another person rather than believe his own son. That his mother supports her husband rather than her son. And Hedges is perfectly cast as the dutiful son who reluctantly enters a program that attacks a part of his very being - and Hedges captures the low-simmering, internal rage of a man being forcefully converted.
However, this story - based on the memoir of author Garrard Conley - would have been better served by a documentary than a "based on a true story" film. "Boy Erased" goes through the motions of recounting Jared's experiences during the conversion program. In these moments, the film shifts away from a character-driven drama to an experiential journey alongside Jared as he is subjected to a prejudicial conversion program.
Films that elect to ride shotgun with the protagonist can succeed (think "Son of Saul" or "Searching") - but they have to be so jarring and so visceral that the audience absolutely feels like they've being run through the emotional ringer along with the protagonist. And "Boy Erased" just enough brutal enough on this front. So what's left is the story of a young man's experience in a gay conversion program - which is great material for a first-person memoir or a documentary, but this film doesn't pack the punch it probably should. It feels like a glancing blow rather than a harrowing gut punch.
Crowe and Kidman are wonderfully cast in their supporting roles, even if both essentially disappear for the second act. Crowe's brings a sincerity to his bigoted character that shines through his narrow-sighted character who believes homosexuality is a choice. What Jared's father does is reprehensible but Crowe's performance makes clear that the Baptist preacher believes he is doing the right thing (misguided as it may be) for a son he loves. Kidman gets more time to slowly evolve her character - and while it may be easy to brush off her turn in the first and second act, she truly takes command of the final act.
Final verdict: This well-acted and well-meaning "prey the gay away" drama varies from heavy-handed to predictable.
"Boy Erased" opens in theaters nationwide Nov. 9. This biographical drama is rated R for sexual content including an assault, some language and brief drug use. and has a running time of 114 minutes.