Over the past decade, LGBT cinema has seen a surge in popularity. A significantly marginalized minority is getting acceptable representation in Hollywood. With Moonlight and Call Me By Your Name of the last two years, these movies have proven themselves as serious Oscar contenders. This year’s Oscar contender on that front comes with Joel Edgerton’s Boy Erased. Not only is this a powerful film in its own right, but its release could not be more relevant with today’s political climate.
After being outed to his parents, young Jared Eamon is forced to attend a gay conversion camp by his religious parents.
Based on the real life story of Garrad Conely, the film depicts the story of young gay men (named Jared Eamons in the film) and his experiences with conversion therapy. After coming out to his conservative family, his father ships him off to a 12 day program to steer him straight. The plot follows a non-linear structure, interweaving scenes within the camp with ones prior that lead to Jared going to the camp. The camp is led by overcompensating macho man Victor Sykes, played by director Joel Edgerton.
Having written, directed, and starred in the film, Edgerton does well with his second directorial effort. Many directors who wear too many hats in production often favor one or the other, but here every element is strong enough to show the work of three different people. The pacing is fine and the film never feels like it drags. The script is powerful in its own right, not being lifted alone but its weighty subject matter. Edgerton stands shoulder to shoulder with his already stellar cast. The score is one of the most memorable of the year, bringing an appropriately delicate tenderness that suits the story perfectly.
By far and away, the cast is the most impressive asset this film has. Lucas Hedges (Manchester By The Sea) proves he is one of the more talented young actors working today. Much like in Manchester By The Sea, Hedges elicits so much emotion with his delivery that every truth in this script stings. Nicole Kidman gives another Oscar worthy performance as Jared’s mother, providing this cold story with a needed sense of security in the form a loving caring matriarch. Her character is essential for the story, as she only wants the best for her son whatever that may be. Every other characters logic is not founded in any sort of reason, although that may be the conceit of the movie itself. Russel Crowe is as good as ever, as the quiet and reserved father. A scene between him and Hedges towards the end of the film may be one of the most heart wrenching scenes of the year. The supporting cast that fills out the other attendees of the camp bring a strong dynamic to the film that shows just how many different kinds of people may be homosexual.
LGBT cinema has provided audiences with some great and unique stories over the years, but much like any genres they quickly developed their tropes and cliches. Most LGBT stories end in a great tragedy, given the stigma surrounding homosexuality for so long. This is why films like Call Me By Your Name and Carol were so refreshing. They were able to exist as same sex love stories without getting bogged down by some catastrophe audiences are waiting to happen. This is one of the issues Boy Erased faces, but in a different manner. This time it is a horrific event that sets the events of the film in motion. It is hard to argue against this choice, seeing as how accurate it feels within the reality of similar situations. The only disservice this choice does to the film is that the scene itself is so unsettling that at times the mere mention of it within the story overshadows the horrors of the conversion camp. Its a shame as the point of the film is to highlight how horrible and out of place these places are in society.
Boy Erased is a fine film. Its a welcome addition to the wealth of LGBT cinema out there. The film is all but guaranteed to pick up a few Oscar nominations when the times comes, especially for its all star cast. Even though its not without it faults, the film is necessary viewing given the state of the world. While many strides have been taken towards equality, the LGBT community is still misunderstood for the most part. It is films like this that can help bridge the divide between us and help us reach a better understanding of one another.
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