‘Boy Erased’ is Underwhelming Despite Being Well-Acted
Does actor turned director Joel Edgerton’s film ‘Boy Erased’ live upto the expectations?
Boy Erased is underwhelming despite being well-acted, and well-intentioned
Boy Erased poses an interesting dilemma to the viewer. It narrates the horrifying tale of a young gay boy going through conversion therapy, pronouncing its noble intentions. For the liberal-minded, the instinct is to champion it immediately. But is intention, however noble, enough to elevate a film?
Shot in aggressively drab light, Australian actor turned director Joel Edgerton’s second feature takes us to a world where passion is whipped out of the doors, and hostility is invited in. A group of people in buttoned shirts will go through a therapy that is an unnerving mix of religious dogma, and quack-science.
Young Jared (Lucas Hedges) finds himself in the therapy after a sudden push out of his closet. There he meets chief therapist, Victor Sykes (played by Edgerton himself) and his scowling deputies. The sessions begin with the overtures of spiritual sermons, and soon spiral into physical abuse and emotional sadism.
After being cornered to be part of the programme, Jared is repeatedly told that his sexuality is entirely his choice, and that he can alter it if he wishes to. There are sessions to list out the deviants in their respective family trees, exorcise their parents. Jared follows the rituals like his inmates (played by Canadian auteur Xavier Dolan, Australian singer Troye Sivan among others). The aesthetic of the film is that of a prison movie, where you fear the worst might happen. Jared gets told how he must pretend that a change is taking place, otherwise his temporary stay at therapy might elongate itself to eternity.
Based on Garrard Conley's 2016 memoir of the same name, this is the second film this year on the conversion therapy (after The Miseducation of Cameron Post), and it’s quite unsettling that such practices are still rampant in America.
The film refuses to take the easy street of demonising Jared’s parents, Marshall (Russell Crowe) and Nancy (Nicole Kidman) as conservative cut-outs. They are not your cardboard representations of narrow-mindedness, but two entities who are limited by their religious beliefs, but not by their extension of understanding. While Crowe lays down Marshall’s flaws with scathing honesty, Kidman once again turns up that steely resolve of motherhood that we had last witnessed in Lion (2016). At the centre of all this is Hedges, locking himself within a moral fortitude and trying to break through it.
It’s a brilliant turn of silent screams that makes the little moments count. Portraying a gay man brought up in a house of religious affection, Hedges manages to bring a rare balance to this character with sensitive flourish.
Edgerton who showed surprising command over his craft in his directorial debut, The Gift (2015) has chosen to limit his dramatic impulses in Boy Erased to honour the sensitivity of the topic. It is so insistent on studying the conversion therapy in a cold manner that the humane drive loses its way. It becomes a self-inflicted limitation that ultimately hampers the narrative’s possibility and growth.
What could have been a thumping joy becomes a string of underwhelming scenes because Edgerton refuses to address the internal lives of his characters. The God-fearing nature of Jared and his parents and how it makes them torn between two banks seems to be out of the movie’s reach. Since it refuses to talk about the characters’ religious life, the confrontations become devoid of insight.
Jared unlike his inmates starts showing signs of rebellion early, and when he finally breaks out, the emotional payoff of his terribly under-portrayed journey becomes an underwhelming conclusion.
(The writer is a journalist, a screenwriter, and a content developer who believes in the insanity of words, in print or otherwise. He tweets @RanjibMazumder).
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