I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
James Cole Clay // Film Critic
LGBTQ stories are slowly seeping their way into the mainstream with help from stories like BOY ERASED (based off the memoir of the same name by Garrard Conley). It’s empathic pieces of work like this that can lead to healing and understanding for those who are seeking it most.
Director Joel Edgerton’s second solid effort behind the camera shines a glaring spotlight on the hypocritical outlook of Christians looking to convert their gay or lesbian children through therapy that will lead them back into God’s favor. Edgerton delivers a molly-whop of a film that makes you feel sadness for those who have experienced such a devastation and tension for those who are discovering its horrors for the first time.
Meet Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges), a young man who has had rumors of his sexuality circling his Christian household. His father, Marshall Eamons (Russell Crowe), is a pastor who has a guidance heart, but has some twisted worldview when it comes to his son’s orientation. He talks with Jared, but they never address their true feelings, only skirting the issue. Jared is discovering his identity, but Marshall is constantly forcing anger and hate into Jared’s life.
Jared’s mother, Nancy (Nicole Kidman), has a viewpoint that is simple after she realizes that falling in line with the men of the community is dangerous. She states, “I love God and I love my son. It’s that easy.” The three members of the family walk a fine line with each other, quietly hoping for the best. They never embrace that Jared’s lifestyle isn’t caused by sinful behaviors, but by birth. Edgerton, who also penned the script, treats this with the obvious notion that the parents are clearly delusional.
After Jared and his girlfriend break up and an anonymous tip comes to their landline, the 19-year-old is shipped off to gay conversion therapy out of fear of being shunned by his friends, family and community. The camp is a 9-to-5 ordeal where they take away the patients’ phones, notebooks and personal effects. They are forced to dress in white button-ups, khaki slacks and brown dress shoes.
Led by Victor Sykes (Edgerton), who has no real credentials other than going through the program himself, puts these young adults through cloying podium confessions and mock yelling sessions at loved ones. This provokes even more anger and advice from incompetent (and often abusive) counselors who are too afraid to live their truths.
Edgerton’s film works best as pot-boiling psychological drama that sees Jared as a passive character in his own life. We see him deciding on how he wants to react to his family’s parenting skills, offering little on how he will handle such a terrible situation. Jared knows he hates being stuck at the camp, but he does it out of a false love and respect he has for his parents beliefs.
There are traces of David Fincher in this film, much like THE SOCIAL NETWORK’s deposition scenes, where BOY ERASED finds teeth-chattering tension in group session exercises.
Jared meets three guys going through the program: Gary (singer Troye Sivan), who uses the “fake it until you make it” approach; Jon (filmmaker Xavier Dolan), who falls in line out of blind fear; and lastly, Cameron (Britton Sear), a larger boy who is treated far worse by the staff. None of these guys are much help, so Jared is forced to navigate these tricky waters all on his own.
It’s no surprise that Hedges (MANCHESTER BY THE SEA) shines in this subdued role. He gives a more internalized acting performance that causes fear for the audience, as you don’t know exactly what he is thinking and are petrified for what might come next.
The rest of the supporting cast is used beautifully, as their characters are all at fault. Nobody is ready to cross the aisle and take the blame. With Crowe, he plays the authoritative pastor who talks from the pulpit. As for Kidman, she’s a revelation (as always) as the loving mother. It’s not on the level of emotion she found in LION, but she’s giving everything to tell this story. And even Flea (of Red Hot Chili Peppers fame) pops up and has never been so gross as an addict sent in to scare the boys “straight.”
BOY ERASED finds a more subdued tone throughout as Edgerton creates a story that breathes fire into the hypocrisy of the Christian faith, but doesn’t full condemn the love that stems from its ideas. Jared’s experience growing up is harrowing, but his story could be used to help parents accept any of the things they don’t ideological agree on their children with. Hopefully, this film leads many to a path of understanding.
BOY ERASED premiered on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018. The Toronto International Film Festival will have encore screenings on 9/11, 9/12 and 9/15. Visit tiff.net for more details on the showtimes. BOY ERASED will release on Nov. 2, 2018 through Focus Features.