Boy Erased - Review

Boy Erased tells a relevant story in an uninspired way that gets in the way of the message. Lucas Hedges is amazing, though.

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Watching Boy Erased is like watching someone who doesn’t exist go through a crisis. Despite being based on a true story, Joel Edgerton’s film is impersonal, and while it’s a decent enough film, it does nothing to distinguish itself from contemporaries like The Miseducation of Cameron Post and Beautiful Boy.

For one, the color pallete of Boy Erased could use some help. This film is obsessed with khaki, literally and in overall scheme. The Refuge Program that Jarred (Lucas Hedges) is sent to emphasizes conformity, asking pupils to perform manly activities and denounce family members without hesitation. If Boy Erased had a better script, this banal coloring would have been easy to overlook, but like most of this film, it settles for acceptable. At least Beautiful Boy had great acting and cinematography; Boy Erased is spotty, and places too much emphasis on characters who don’t matter to the overall story, and not enough on those who do.

With a supporting cast including Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman, and Joel Edgerton, the last thing Boy Erased should have to worry about is performances. Crowe does well with a defined role, and as a key aspect of the father-son relationship that ties the film off, he is given the attention he deserves. Kidman is not written worse than Crowe, but something is off with her performance. It could be her over the top wig and small town accent, but the role does not fit her. She enters most scenes with a threatening presence, rather than the loving one she is meant to convey; but she is not the only actor whose performance is more than a little off. Joel Edgerton’s antagonist is a commanding presence, but leans into the ludicrous aspects of his personality to a fault. The film is at its worst when it over-dramatizes important events, rather than let the events tell the story. The original score doesn’t help, adding triumphant piano progressions that remind you that “THIS IS AN IMPORTANT MOMENT FOR THE CHARACTER”. This type of storytelling makes the reality harder to see, and pulls the viewer away from any emotion.

Lucas Hedges is the only real standout here, with a performance that suggests what Boy Erased might have been. His character, based on the real life Garrard Conley, is what his supporting role in Lady Bird would have looked like in a feature film. Jarred is emotional, loving, and difficult to pin down. His desire to satisfy authority conflicts with the teachings of The Refuge Program, and his path toward accepting himself as a gay man is the best part of the film.

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Boy Erased is a difficult movie to watch, like the recent Beautiful Boy. Where these films differ is in the filmmaking process: cinematography, storytelling, and acting. Lucas Hedges can own a scene, but there is always someone else there to bring the mood down, or change it so abruptly that the tone is completely lost. Coloring is bland and without a purpose, and the original score makes the melodramatic script even more so. Hedges has chosen excellent projects thus far, but if he weren’t so good in this, there would be no reason to see it.