It’s not uncommon to see two movies released in the same year tackle similar subject matter. Earlier this year, I was delighted to see the amazing film The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018) while at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. That movie dealt with a young girl being sent to a gay conversion camp. Now, Boy Erased (2018) also features the lead character being sent to a gay conversion group, but the movies handle their subjects differently, with the latter feeling substantially less aware of what it was doing.
Boy Erased has good performances, but is missing something
Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges) begins attending a church-supported gay conversion program after he is outed to his father (Russell Crowe), a Baptist preacher, and his mother (Nicole Kidman). The program is run by a charismatic man named Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton), but his methods and rules slowly make Jared skeptical of the whole system. The movie utilizes flashbacks to reveal Jared’s past, and what lead him into the program.
While the cast is strong and gives good performances, there is something about the way the movie handles the subject matter that just isn’t compelling enough. There are tough scenes that play out as one would expect, given the controversial perspectives of a gay conversion program – but the movie doesn’t do much to make sense of why. Sykes is the antagonist by the very fact that he runs the program, but there is no sense of his motives – a detail that is noticeably present in Miseducation of Cameron Post. Instead, the antagonists feel perfunctory, rather than real people with a skewed point-of-view.
There are some tough sequences in the film that will definitely stay with me. Jared is forced to revisit his “sins” as a part of the “therapy”, which are shown as flashbacks. One of the moments that ultimately set him on the path to the therapy is out of his control. Another tough moment involves one of the other members of the group, as Sykes attempt to “cure” him of his homosexuality. They serve to make the point that this process is wrong and misguided but never addresses where this is coming from. The movie alludes to the idea of greed as the cost of the program is brought up by a few characters. However, we ultimately don’t know what Sykes and the other counselors are truly driven by.
The film was fine with a combination of good-to-great performances, with Kidman leading the pack. However, something is missing, and it seems to be a major element. I was never bored, and the story that is being told is based on a true one – even though they did opt to change names only to give the real ones at the front of the credits. Boy Erased earns a Decent Watch rating.