‘Erased’ a grace­ful drama

‘Boy Erased’ a grace­ful drama about con­ver­sion ther­apy

The Arizona Republic - - Front Page - Randy Cor­dova Ari­zona Repub­lic | USA TO­DAY NET­WORK

“Boy Erased” is a hor­ri­fy­ing and sad movie about con­ver­sion ther­apy. Yet the film star­ring Lu­cas Hedges un­folds with grace and com­pas­sion.

Dur­ing a ses­sion at the con­ver­sion-ther­apy camp that serves as much of the back­ground for “Boy Erased,” we see a group of young men go­ing through es­sen­tially a mas­culin­ity boot camp. Don’t sit with your legs crossed, they are told. Watch your hand move­ments. Stand this way, not that way. It’s hor­ri­fy­ing, sad and darkly comic all at the same time.

Those mo­ments are among the most strik­ing in the film, which is di­rected with taste­ful re­straint by Joel Edger­ton. Scenes like those, which could go wildly broad or hor­ror-movie dark, do nei­ther. In­stead the movie, based on Gar­rard Con­ley’s mem­oir, un­folds with a grace­ful kind of stark­ness.

Arkansas col­lege stu­dent Jared (Lu­cas Hedges) is our en­try into this world. Af­ter he is sex­u­ally as­saulted by a male friend on cam­pus, he is outed to his par­ents. Mar­shall (Rus­sell Crowe), his fa­ther, is a Bap­tist min­is­ter who runs a car deal­er­ship; mom Nancy (Nicole Kid­man) listens to coun­try mu­sic and ap­pears gen­er­ally happy to do what­ever her hus­band says. When he de­cides the best course of ac­tion is to send Jared to the eerily named Love in Ac­tion, she ac­qui­esces.

Edger­ton also plays Vic­tor Sykes, who serves as di­rec­tor of the camp. Ini­tially, Vic­tor seems wildly mis­guided — ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity is a choice, he opines — but as Jared gets fur­ther into treat­ment, his be­hav­ior slides deeper into scary abuse, both men­tal and phys­i­cal. One young man is beaten with Bi­bles in a par­tic­u­larly dis­turb­ing mo­ment.

As a di­rec­tor, Edger­ton’s strength is his econ­omy. He doesn’t reach for the florid or the melo­dra­matic, even when op­por­tu­nity arises. In­stead, his ap­proach is quiet and en­com­pass­ing. At Love in Ac­tion, Jared no­tices the small de­tails, and so do we: All the par­tic­i­pants dress in blank white shirts. Dur­ing a break, Vic­tor slips out­side and grabs a smoke, which seems oddly in­con­gru­ous. The men and the boys at­tend­ing ses­sions take quick glances at each other and look away, afraid to lock eyes for more than a sec­ond.

Hedges is per­haps the ideal ac­tor to play Jared. His non-showy per­for­mance per­fectly matches Edger­ton’s un­der­stated di­rec­tion. Jared is a young man who never quite opens up, for ob­vi­ous rea­sons, and Hedges makes that guarded qual­ity quite af­fect­ing.

More than sim­ply a look at the con­ver­sion ther­apy, the film ex­am­ines the bonds be­tween par­ents and chil­dren. The film doesn’t con­demn Jared’s par­ents; Nancy ul­ti­mately emerges as some­thing of a hero, com­ing to her son’s res­cue. The char­ac­ters are treated with great com­pas­sion. Even Mar­shall isn’t made out to be a vil­lain.

FO­CUS FEA­TURES

Xavier (Theodore Pel­lerin, left) and Jared (Lu­cas Hedges) get close in “Boy Erased.”

Nancy (Nicole Kid­man) tries to con­sole her son (Lu­cas Hedges).

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