TIFF18: Boy Erased

Jared is a good guy. He goes to church with is parents, where his father is the pastor. He plays on the high school basketball team. He’s kind to his girlfriend. But when he gets to collage, the world isn’t quite so good to him in return. He makes fast friends with a fellow runner, but that leads to a surprise sexual tryst one night that the other guy can’t live with. So, he tries to destroy Jared’s life, forcibly outing him to his deeply religious parents.

Jared (Lucas Hedges) respects his parents (Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe) so he goes to gay conversion camp as instructed, in the hopes that they can turn him straight.  Conversion therapy is nuts. I mean, it just is, on principle. What kind of whack jobs really believed this would work? And what kind of whack jobs wanted it to? It would almost MV5BMjQ4MDM0MjMxOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTkzNzY1NTM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1555,1000_AL_make a handy queer dating service, as it is probably the biggest concentration of homosexual folk any of these kids has seen before, if it wasn’t so nasty and abusive. That’s what it really boils down to. The head instructor, Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton), blames your “problem” on some member of your family who made you gay. He wants you to pick someone to focus your anger on. He wants you to learn to “act” “straight” (did you know that the triangle is the straightest shape?). He focuses on behaviour – if you stop playing football, you are no longer a football player. Problem solved.

I mean, this whole thesis feels strangely out of date. Why is Hollywood still trying to convince people that gay is okay? I think societally we’ve moved past this point, except all these scripts that have been languishing for years are only now getting produced, and they’re already obsolete. You have to check out indie cinema to see some truly of-the-moment lgbt themes. But okay, gay conversion therapy is a horror. Of course it is. But the thing that’s great about Boy Erased is that Jared is such a strong character. Everyone and everything in his life is trying to make him feel wrong and ashamed and dirty, but he doesn’t. When he confirms to his parents that he thinks about men, he knows it goes against everything they believe, but it doesn’t seem like he’s internalized that self-hatred. It can’t be easy, in that house particularly, to know that his very being is not only repugnant but blasphemous to the people he loves most. And yet when he consents to the therapy, it’s for them, not for him. We never get the sense that he believes he needs to change. And that’s kind of astonishing to see.

Eventually Jared need to come to terms with disappointing the people he loves. And maybe he’ll need to cut out the people who are adding toxicity to his life. Those are hard choices, but they’re the right ones. This movie is really more about his parents needing to learn that they’re the idiots, and they’re the ones in need of education and re-conditioning. But while Nicole Kidman, in all her church lady big-hair, bejeweled glory, sort of comes around, there’s not a lot of remorse on the part of Russell Crowe’s character. And that’s where the movie falls short. Jared is surprisingly at ease with himself but the movie doesn’t give him nearly enough credit. Director Joel Edgerton, perhaps unsurprisingly, spends more time on his own character, than he does on the ones with real influence in this story.

Boy Erased is a good, competent little movie that will fail to make a big impression.

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17 thoughts on “TIFF18: Boy Erased

  1. msjadeli

    I think Hollywood is still making these movies because so many maga parents continue to send their kids to conversion camps. I like the idea of a movie that shows exactly the plot you are talking about. As to Joel Edgerton directing — and acting in — movies, I watched, The Gift, with that situation. His acting was wooden and the role was for someone with more acting depth. He might play a deluded converter better, but unless that domination of the screen was for some analysis into why he chose that profession, sounds like a poor choice for this film. I love Russell Crow (just watched him again in The Man with the Iron Fists a couple of days ago) and Nicole Kidman. One I will definitely be seeing.

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      1. Jay Post author

        It’s not really an Australian film. Joel Edgerton, the director, is Australian, and he’s stacked a lot of Australian actors for sure. But it’s an American story, that takes place, as it did in real life, in America, made with American money.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. bookbeachbunny

    I really like Hedges, Crowe and Kidman so I’d see it for that. I must say the trailer seems to present some big catharsis for Crowe/Hedges characters bummer it falls short! Also all your TIFF coverage has been really fun to read across the board. So many movies I’ve added to my list from your guys reviews 🙂

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    1. Jay Post author

      Yeah, it’s too bad. Of course, real life isn’t like that and this is, sadly, based on someone’s real experience, so that could be why we don’t get our Hollywood moment. We have to make do with what little progress can be made, and live with that. And I guess that’s a good lesson too.

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    1. Jay Post author

      I really hope those are coming! I think that’s what real representation is about. Same for people of colour – yes, there are plenty of “issues” movies coming out and that’s great, but representation is about more than PSAs. Normal, every day characters is where it’s at.

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  3. EclecticMusicLover

    Funny to see a notification of this latest post, Jay, because not two hours ago I read an article in Out magazine about Garrard Conley, the gay man who wrote Boy Erased, the book this film is based on. The film essentially tells his story, albeit with some cinematic license.

    I don’t think the topic is out of date at all, given the millions of homophobes and religious whack-jobs who continue to exert tremendous political influence in the U.S., not to mention the fact one of them is our current Vice President.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Jay Post author

      Yes, but none of those people will see this movie.
      So this movie is only preaching to the choir.
      Which is fine. It’s important to detail history so we have a record of it. I just want to be able to move past all these ‘issues’ movies and realize that they can just be characters in regular movies too.

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  4. selizabryangmailcom

    Well, Jared’s a better kid than I would have been. I would have refused to go to conversion camp and, regardless of how much I loved my parents, I definitely would have been furious and held a HUGE grudge against them.

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  5. Pingback: ASSHOLES WATCHING MOVIESTop 10 LGBTQ Movies 2018

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