At a mere 21 years-old, Oscar-nominated and sexually “fluid” Lucas Hedges is one of the busiest actors on film. Since his remarkable performance in 2016’s “Manchester By the Sea”, for which he earned a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination, Hedges received raves for his work in “Lady Bird” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”, both released in 2017.
In “Boy Erased” (Focus Features), the second film directed by and co-starring Joel Edgerton (“Kinky Boots”), Hedges steps into the lead and easily owns the movie, which is based on the memoir by Garrard Conley (renamed Jared in the movie). Jared (Hedges) is the only son of preacher and Ford dealership owner Marshall (Russell Crowe) and his devout and devoted bleached-blonde wife Nancy (the ubiquitous Nicole Kidman). Jared is the very definition of a good son from a religiously conservative home. A player on his high school’s basketball team and a good, college-bound student who resists the temptation of pre-marital sex, he is a source of pride for his parents.
Away at college, Jared has a kind of awakening. He finds himself attracted to fellow runner and Christian student Henry (Joe Alwyn), but an unexpected sexual encounter devolves into rape and a shocking confession from Henry. Feeling threatened by Jared’s avoidance of him, as well as the information that Jared has about him, Henry calls Jared’s house making all sorts of accusations about Jared’s sexuality. Confronted by his parents, Jared admits his same-gender attraction.
Jared’s parents enroll him in the controversial Love In Action “conversion therapy” ministry. The initial 12-day program, led by counselor Sykes (Edgerton) – based on John Smid -- allows for Jared to leave at the end of the day and return to the hotel room he is sharing with Nancy for the duration of the program. As the days go by, we witness the destructive impact the experience has on Jared, as well as fellow enrollees including Gary (gay singer/songwriter Troye Sivan), Lee (Emily Hinkler) and Cameron (Britton Sear).
Nancy, like the mother character of Eileen (Virginia Madsen) in Yen Tan’s devastating “1985”, is far more sensitive to her son’s emotional welfare than his father. Ultimately, it is Nancy who comes to Jared’s rescue, but it is a long and drawn-out arrival. As expected, this has a far-reaching result, effecting Jared’s parents’ relationship. On the other hand, it provides Jared with a newfound strength, particularly when it comes to dealing with his father.
The timing of “Boy Erased” arriving in theaters when it does couldn’t be better, with both religious zealotry and homophobia on the rise. Edgerton’s use of muted lighting is quite effective in setting the mood, but people should be aware that while “Boy Erased” concludes on a relatively upbeat note, getting to it is an emotionally draining experience.