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Lucas Hedges

“BOY ERASED”My rating: B 

114 minutes | MPAA rating: R

In real life, forgiveness is a virtue.

In cinema, it’s a handicap.

That may be why Joel Edgerton’s “Boy Erased,” based on Gerrard Conley’s memoir of undergoing gay conversion therapy as a teen, seems simultaneously important and a bit underwhelming.

The film (and, presumably, Conley’s book) doesn’t go looking for villainy in religious-backed efforts to pray the gay away. The movie is astonishingly open minded and open hearted.  The folk who operate conversion camps are given the benefit of the doubt; they appear sincere in their beliefs and seem to have the best interests of their young clients at heart.

They’re  misguided, sure. But not evil.

That sort of evenhandedness, while morally sound, is narratively problematic. Great drama needs great conflict, and “Boy Erased” soft-pedals issues of prejudice and persecution that might kick the film into dramatic high gear.

What we’re left with is a well-acted, insightful drama that is more mournful than pissed off.

Egerton’s picture (he wrote and directed) begins with college freshman Jared Eamons (a terrific Lucas Hedges) arriving at a big city conversion camp with his mother, Nancy (Nicole Kidman, with the poofy blonde ‘do and vaguely out-there fashion sense of a tasteful Tammy Faye Bakker).

While his mom retreats to the hotel where the two will be sharing a suite for the next two weeks, Jared gets a walkthrough of the joint.  His wallet, cell phone and personal effects are placed in a box and locked away (it’s a bit like reporting to prison).  His journal, in which he scribbles notes for possible short stories, is confiscated (it will be returned to him with certain pages missing). He’s told that all outside reading materials, music, radio and TV are banned.

The man in charge, Victor (director Edgerton), approaches the young men and women in his custody with the sort of enthusiasm and concern exhibited by a good athletic coach. He’s totally upbeat about the possibility of these kids bringing themselves back to God.

Because it’s really not their fault, you see.  Not that they were born gay.  No, that’s a myth.  Rather, at some point in their developmental years these individuals had their psyches warped by someone — usually a family member —  who triggered their gayness.

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