In another world, Garrard Conley might have had a normal life. He might have a wife, kids and a home in Arkansas that’s set to be paid off within a few more years. However, this traditional happy ending isn’t the one he got. He endured conversion therapy as a teenager and now has a story that demands to be told.
I picked up a copy of Conley’s book Boy Erased this summer in anticipation for this film that I had been looking forward to since January. It’s something that’s hard to read, not necessarily because of how he writes, but because of the conversation it produces for families across the world. As an openly gay man who came out on the other side of conversion therapy alive, Conley seeks to tell his story, this time on the big screen, in the hopes that other families like his won’t fall trap to the same route his early life took.
Boy Erased stars Lucas Hedges as Jared Eamons (based on Conley) who comes to a crossroads in his life as he is outed to his devoutly religious parents (Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe), who decide that the best way to change their son is through a program known as Love In Action, a conversion therapy program that would seek to “cure” Jared of his “affliction.”
Hedges shines in his first leading role. His breakout, amazing performances in Lady Bird and Manchester By The Sea are simply precursors to the powerhouse role of Jared that just might earn him another Academy Award nomination. Hedges’ performance is the perfect match to veteran actress Nicole Kidman, who plays his mother. You really feel like these two are genuinely mother and son based on how well they work together, even when they are on opposite ends of the spectrum.
While Jared’s mother eventually comes to accept her son, his father (Russell Crowe) is still dealing with the issue even after the film ends. Crowe’s final scene with Hedges is a near-perfect moment between father and son.
You might think this film would be the kind that could divide people between those that accept homosexuality and those who believe that it is wrong. It’s not. Boy Erased, even in book form, has never portrayed itself as a stab at the heart of Christian beliefs, rather it sets itself up as a pushback against an agenda that would seek to use God as a weapon. It plays upon themes like toxic masculinity, the rationale between God and man and most importantly, how critical it is to be yourself.
The film flew beyond the high expectations I had going in. I expected a movie that played on your heartstrings while a brutal story unfolded on screen. Instead, Boy Erased feels more like the vehicle that we need to expose this ungodly and unethical practice, all while telling a story that is one of the most important of our time.
Boy Erased isn’t a hard movie to wrap your mind around. It gets the job done and will definitely leave you with a lot to think about as you leave the theater. The thing I thought of was presented in the end credits: conversion therapy is still legal to use against minors in 36 U.S. states, including my own state.
As I’ve said and the film’s marketing says, Boy Erased is a story that demands to be heard and demands to be felt. It presents an important issue in our society and we can’t sit idly by and allow to continue existing. Conley’s story is not one of despair, it represents hope for change. It’s relevant, well-executed and definitely a contender for the best movie of the year.