In short order, Joel Edgerton has gone from a solid actor to a multi hyphenate with a lot to say. His directorial debut was a nifty genre effort, but for his sophomore feature, he’s gone way up in ambition. Opening this week, Boy Erased is a prestige drama with Academy Award aspirations. During its fall film festival run, it has gotten some strong acclaim. Sadly, I can’t quite go along with that, as I found it lacking a bit too much to give the thumbs up to. There’s plenty to like, but it also never hits home emotionally like it so clearly desires. In that regard, it’s a letdown.
Based on the memoir of the same name by Garrard Conley, this is his slightly fictionalized story. Here, we follow Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges), the son of prominent Baptist preacher Marshall Eamons (Russell Crowe). In high school, Jared seemed to have it all. He has a girlfriend, plays on the basketball team, and is the light of his parents’ life. Marshall and Nancy Eamons (Nicole Kidman) are then blindsided when he comes out as bisexual/gay in college, after an experience with Henry (Joe Alwyn) goes south. Unable to cope, they send him to a church backed gay conversion program run by Victor Sykes (Edgerton). Having been forcibly outed, Jared has a lot to figure out, all while under the various pressures of his family, the program, and those around him. Edgerton depicts it all with a fractured narrative that jumps back and forth in time. Individual moments work, but the whole never quite adds up to the gut punch you’re expecting. Edgerton writes and directs, while the supporting cast includes Flea, Madelyn Cline, Xavier Dolan, Jesse LaTourette, Britton Sear, Troye Sivan, and more. Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans composed the score, while Eduard Grau handles the cinematography.
The message of the movie is a great one. It’s just a shame that the delivery leaves something to be desired. There’s nothing wrong with Jared. There’s nothing wrong with this film, either. At the same time, Boy Erased never effectively connects to you in the emotional way it desperately wants to. Hedges and Kidman are great here, Crowe and Edgerton are solid, while the latter showcases a knack for nice visuals. It’s in the screenplay adaptation where he just misses the mark, along with Edgerton’s decision to showcase the plot out of order. You never get the feels like you clearly should. The original song Revelation is a strong cue, but it’s also a bit on the manipulative side.
Oscar wise, Boy Erased has the chance to do pretty well. If nothing else, it’ll be in the hunt for a number of Academy Award nominations. Best Picture, Best Actor (for Hedges), Best Supporting Actor (for Crowe), Best Supporting Actress (for Kidman), Best Adapted Screenplay (for Edgerton), and Best Original Song are on the table. The film may not have worked completely for me, but I certainly understand why these nominations will be considered. Hell, if Oscar voters fall in love with it, watch out for Edgerton in Best Director, as well as Best Cinematography and Best Film Editing. Kidman seems the most likely to score a nod, with Supporting Actress fairly top heavy, while another nom with decent odds is in Original Song. The rest? It all depends how the season goes.
I’m in the minority here, not fully embracing Boy Erased. You very well might love it. Most do. On Friday, you can decide for yourself. Keep in mind, none of my issues have to do with the messaging here. Or even the performances. It’s just the sort of Oscar bait that falls just shy of where it needs to be, emotion wise. Watch, you’ll cry your eyes out. For now, know that I wasn’t far off from a recommendation. It’s similar to Beautiful Boy in that regard (spoiler alert, I much prefer Ben is Back, but more on that one in December). As for this one, give it a shot if you see fit and make up your own mind…
Boy Erased opens in theaters this weekend!