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Powerful, moving ‘Boy Erased’ looks to be award contender

Boys, families and intense modern topics are the themes of this year’s Oscar contenders.

Directed by Joel Edgerton (The Gift), Boy Erased stars Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Joel Edgerton, Troye Sivan, Britton Sear and Xavier Dolan.

Seen as a future family man with so much potential, the son of a Baptist preacher is struggling to please his family and religion while figuring out a newfound realization: He is gay.

He agrees to go to a gay conversion therapy camp, to which his father asks him to go if he wants to change. There, he witnesses the real-life disgust of how the people running the camp are beating the straight into these young adults.

Sometimes when I hear that a film is ‘based on a real story,’ I roll my eyes because I know how Hollywood is and how they alter much of what actually happened for dramatic purposes.

Boy Erased, though, is grounded and real. I can bring myself to see how this could happen to a friend of mine. The performances and the story are so beautifully tragic. Edgerton struck gold for his sophomore debut.

Lucas Hedges has been having a fantastic few years, starring in Manchester by the Sea in 2016, Lady Bird in 2017 and both Boy Erased and Ben is Back in this year’s release schedule. He isn’t as talkative as he is in Manchester by the Sea, but it’s what’s happening to and around him that lets him shine in Edgerton’s film.

I think it wouldn’t have been problematic to see more depth to some of the camp attendees. While I may have wanted to know a bit more about some of the other young men and women who are also going through the conversion, I was reminded often that it’s Hedges’ Jared that the audience is supposed to follow.

In any case, the entire cast does an excellent job portraying troubled and complex characters, including Hedges’ film parents Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman.

Jared goes through an empathetic journey, and although I have not gone through his experience, the themes of suppression and being accepted are universally felt, no matter what specific circumstances a person goes through.

That isn’t to take away from Jared’s story either. It’s eye-opening to see goes on in a conversion therapy camp. I’m aware of how some religions frown upon homosexuality, but the lengths some parents and adults go to rip apart who their children really are is unacceptable.

Boy Erased is as much of a parent-oriented film as it is an outsider film. Kidman and Crowe provide an opposite and hesitant look at what parents go through and think about when their child needs help.

If Boy Erased doesn’t specifically speak to you, the beautiful thing about real-life situational films is that they can attract you to a contained story of how tragic and amazing a person’s will is to accept and overcome struggles.

Edgerton, in directing Boy Erased and playing the antagonist, truly understands how important Jared’s story is. Edgerton wrote it based on Garrard Conley’s powerful memoir.

In a Q&A interview with Focus Features, Conley said:

“I always thought it was a family story, something that would feel universal to people.”

The best films on personal experiences invite the viewers on an exploration and, ultimately, a self-reflection of the main character.

With Conley being attached to it from the start, Edgerton made and succeeded on his attempt to tell his story. Conley said:

“[Joel] wanted to meet other survivors. He sent me every draft of the script to get my approval and my comments about whether it hit the right notes tonally. We worked together quite a bit to get the ending right. I wanted to make sure that Jared’s story ends in a positive way, but also with people asking what happens next. We needed to tell the rest of the story, about how long—if ever—it takes to get over conversion therapy.”

I love screen-grabbing performances; I’m moved by a story that creates genuine empathy; I’m impressed by dedication the crew and filmmakers have for their project. Boy Erased is one of the best award contenders of the season.

Mental illness is one of the major themes explored in Boy Erased. If anybody needs help or knows of someone that needs help, please don’t hesitate to go over to the Suicide Prevention Hotline.

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