Jared (Lucas Hedges) is a popular boy who lives with a loving family (Nicole Kidman, Russel Crowe) and has a beautiful and doting girlfriend. Jared’s father works at a car dealership, but his first love is his church, where he is a Baptist minister, preaching family values. Jared has a secret, something that he is slowly realizing, he is gay.
Jared breaks up with his high school girlfriend and heads off to college. Jared would probably have kept his secret to himself, but when he is raped by a fellow student and is outed to his parents, he must confront his sexual orientation. Deeply religious, Jared wants to face what his parents consider a sin and change his sexuality. His parents decide that it would be best if Jared went to a church-supported gay conversion program led by Pastor Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton). If Jared doesn’t complete the program, he will be kicked out of the family and shunned.
Jared goes into the program, thinking that he can change, not just for his family but also for his faith, which he believes he has gone against. Jared goes into the program wanting to give it his all but soon realizes that the program only wants to blame other people, including his parents, for his being gay. As Jared progresses further into the program, he becomes unhappy with the teachings of Pastor Sykes and his followers. Jared finds that many of his fellow participants in the program are as dissatisfied with the teachings of Pastor Sykes as he is. Ultimately, Jared must decide if he can make peace with being gay or stay in a program that is making him increasingly unhappy.
While Lucas Hedges gives us a passionate and insightful performance as the troubled Jared, it’s the performances of Russel1 Crowe and Nicole Kidman that shine in this film. Crowe, playing the father who is conflicted by his love of his son versus the conviction of his faith that the gay lifestyle is wrong in the eyes of his religion. Through Crowe’s performance, you see how much his character cares for his son but can’t justify his son’s lifestyle with his beliefs. Nicole Kidman masterfully pays the mom who loves her son but also wants to follow the beliefs of her husband. Kidman plays the mom to perfection, someone who wants to be the peacekeeper between her husband and son but ultimately must choose which side she is on. Kidman gives the performance of the film, a heartbreaking role that she plays with flair.
The film, written and directed by Joel Edgerton, tackles a tough subject with loving care, giving us an inside look at a family torn apart by a son who seemingly has to choose between what his family wants and what he feels inside. The film showcases how hard it is to be gay and be part of a religion that doesn’t think that lifestyle is right or justified in the sight of their faith.
While I enjoyed the performances in the film, my problem with the movie is that I never got the big emotional moment that the film needed. The film is based on a true story, one that was famously told by Jared himself, in both a magazine article and a book. The film ends weakly on a scene between Jared and his father, where his father shows his acceptance of his son by giving him a family heirloom, a pen. It just doesn’t have the impact that I wanted, and a film that should have been moving and full of pain feels kind of cold. I also think the movie focused too much on the emotional and physical abuse suffered by the young people enrolled in the program. I would have liked the film to explore more the conflict that Jared felt between his feelings toward other men and his religion. The film touches on it but never thoroughly explores that dichotomy of what Jared feels and what he believes is right.
Is ‘Boy Erased’ worth seeing? Yes, if just for the fact that the horrible, torturing act of gay conversion is still allowed in 36 states but also because Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman are fantastic in their roles of loving parents who hope that they can change their kid to conform with their religious beliefs.
My Rating: Bargain Matinee
Mike’s rating system from best to worst:
1). I Would Pay to See it Again
2). Full Price
3). Bargain Matinee
5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again