An adaptation of Garrard Conley’s 2016 memoir about gay conversion therapy, writer-director Joel Edgerton's "Boy Erased" is a well-intentioned but maudlin attempt at Oscar-bait. Edgerton's film tackles the case of Jared Eamons, an Arkansas teen (Lucas Hedges), with conservative Christian parents, including his dad Marshall (Russell Crowe), a Baptist minister who has a knack, like many ministers do, of taking the bible a tad-too-literally. Mom Nancy (Nicole Kidman) is the sane voice of reason, but not enough to prevent Jared from being shipped off to a gay conversion therapy center when dad finds out that his son is gay. Nancy's reluctance is eventually turned into agreement with hubby when church leaders advise her it's the right thing to do, Jared needs to be 'cured.'
At the center, Jared befriends many in the same situation as he's in, but cannot shake the vehement teachings of Victor Sykes (Edgerton), who heads the ironically-titled “Love in Action” conversion camp. Jared and other young men, with the assistance of a few counsellors, attempt to 'pray away the gay.' It's in the camp scenes that Edgerton, the filmmaker, uses speechifying to lay his message across. Of course, the intentions are right, and the sheer fact that this film exists is enough to acknowledge its importance, but saying "Boy Erased" is a good movie would be a stretch.
Edgerton's fellow Aussies Crowe and Kidman are fine in badly caricatured roles that could have become on-screen trainwrecks if it weren't for the fine actors respectiely portraying them. There's real soberness to Egerton's directing but it turns out to make the film rather flat and uninvolving. The film he's made is more about a son's relationship with his parents than any kind of involving experience about the horrific camp experience. I wanted to feel the pain and trauma that such progams inflict on their victims, but, alas, the movie would rather focus on love and the will to overcome.
Edgerton has concocted an uneven and messy narrative that, one which feels unexpected considering the brutally nihilistic psychodrama of his first film as director, 2015's underseen thriller "The Gift." Instead, there's restraint on his part in adapting Conley's memoir, but sometimes you just need to let-her-rip and expose the cowards that oversee these camps. The film plays it too nice. For a film about the most monstrous of acts inflicted upon gay teenagers, "Boy Erased" turns out to be rather soft and saccharine-inducing. [C-]