In 2015, Joel Edgerton made his directorial debut with The Gift. A movie, that sounded like a generic thriller, defied all expectations. It was an unnerving Hitchockian psychological thriller about a young couple’s world turning upside down when someone from the husband’s past comes into their life. Not only did Edgerton deliver a harrowing performance as the creepy stalker, but it also showcases a good future in filmmaking for the Aussie star. Now–he returns to the director’s chair for Boy Erased, a film that has a chance to generate award buzz.
Based on Garrard Conley’s memoir of the same name, the movie is set in Arkansas in the early 2000s. Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges) is the only child of Marshall (Russell Crowe) and Nancy (Nicole Kidman). He’s living a happy life. He goes to church every Sunday, works at his father’s car dealership, and dates one of the prettiest girls in his school.
One day, Jared tells his parents he is attracted to boys. Due to their dismay, they force him to attend Refuge (formerly Love in Action), a gay conversion therapy program run by chief therapist Victor Sykes (Edgerton). While Jared befriends some of the attendees, including Gary (Troye Sivan, the Aussie pop star who also contributes the film with his original song “Revelation”), he learns about the program’s secrets while on his journey to faith and redemption.
Boy Erased is one of those movies where it might go into soap-opera territory. What Edgerton does–thanks to his sublime direction and screenplay–is something raw, beguiling, and poignant. Like Moonlight, Call Me by Your Name, and the more recent Love, Simon, the movie never exploits its message about self-discovery. The audience is with Jared every step of the way begging for his parents to accept him for what he truly is. Although conversion therapy seems to be a great opportunity for him, at first, it doesn’t turn out what it seems. “The truth cannot be converted,” helms the tagline.
Fresh from starring in two award-winning films Manchester by the Sea and Lady Bird, Hedges gives his most mature performance. The audience sympathizes with him and his struggle of coming out, which is shown in subtle yet harrowing flashbacks where he hangs out with some boys while attending college. The supporting cast–mainly Crowe, Kidman, Edgerton, and Flea (of Red Hot Chili Peppers fame)–has their “big moment”, but Hedges is the one who makes this thoughtful and devastatingly powerful film shine bright. One of the year’s best!