Joel Edgerton’s Boy Erased made its world premiere at Telluride but without its star, Lucas Hedges, in tow. He was busy with a play in New York that he couldn’t get out of (rehearsals for The Waverly Gallery; word is it will also keep him from Toronto next week) but Edgerton (who is also in the film playing a pastor) and Academy Award winner Nicole Kidman lended themselves to praise and questions for the fest.
The reviews came in and while they were mostly good, some referring to the film as “powerful,” others ended up a bit tepid with recurring phrases like “familiar” and “respectable” turning up rather than all out raves. The best notices were reserved for Kidman, who might have benefited a bit by her opposite end of the spectrum film and performance in Karyn Kusama’s Destroyer debuting a day before.
Here is a highlight of some of the reviews for Boy Erased [see updated reviews and responses below initial reactions]
Based on Garred Conley’s “Boy Erased: A Memoir,’ the film begins with Jared (Lucas Hedges, on the verge of greatness) as an 18-year-old college freshman being escorted to a conversion therapy center by his mother Nancy (Nicole Kidman, killing it). Jared’s understanding is that he’ll spend 12 days as an outpatient to help him learn how to suppress his homosexuality while Nancy reunites with him nightly at a local motel. His father Marshall (Russell Crowe, solid) is a Baptist preacher, and the owner of a local automobile dealership has stupidly taken the advice of two elder church elders in his matter. Marshall also made it clear he cannot see his son living under his roof or working at his dealership if intends to act upon his sinful homosexual thoughts. A fact we initially have to assume, because it isn’t revealed on screen until a flashback about halfway through the picture.
There is a recurring analogical symbolism throughout Boy Erased that at first is annoying and later becomes magically redemptive. I will not spoil it completely other than to say that it is a facile analogy for overbearing, overly scared parents, and perhaps parents lying to their children to achieve those otherwise noble goals. And it is a fitting summary of the entire film—messy at first, but pitch-perfect in its second half. Throughout it all, it is a story that demands to be told, repeatedly, like those dubious Bible verses, until people get it.
Edgerton shows an admirable sense of restraint, even when hitting all the usual beats. He includes moments of quiet introspection for the characters and the audience alike, staring at the back of Jared’s head as he presumably tries to pray the gay away (although the movie never answers whether he’s able to reconcile his sexuality with his faith, or else is forced to leave the church ito live his truth).
Lucas Hedges plays Conley’s 19-year-old proxy (named Jared Eamons in Edgerton’s script), and he seems like one of the lucky ones. He can pass as straight, which goes a long way for the son of a Baptist minister in Alabama. And while his father (a, um, very American-looking Russell Crowe) is as much of a fire-breathing fundamentalist at the dining room table as he is on the pulpit, there’s a palpable tenderness to the way he looks at his only child; it’s not much of a consolation for Jared, but some of the other kids he meets in conversion therapy would probably kill to have a parent who doesn’t lay their hands on them. Jared has two, as his mother — a stirring but underused Nicole Kidman, whose platinum blonde wig all but screams “Real Housewives of the Bible Belt” — also wants what’s best for the boy. The trouble is, only the smallest, deepest part of her has any real idea of what the best thing for Jared might be.
As more tweets and official reviews have come in, Boy Erased improves greatly from some of its initial reactions. See below.
Full review from Awards Circuit’s Mark Johnson here.