Based on a 2016 memoir by writer Garrard Conley, "Boy Erased" details the author's experiences being sent to gay conversion therapy after being forcibly outed to his conservative family. With his second feature (after 2015's underrated thriller "The Gift") actor-turned-director Joel Edgerton brings a rich sense of empathy and thoughtfulness to a story that can at times be difficult to watch.
Lucas Hedges ("Manchester by the Sea") stars as Jared Eamons, an Arkansas teen raised by his devout Baptist parents (Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman). But from the moment he's dropped off for his "counseling," at the benign-sounding Love in Action facility, he's told by the program's director and lead counselor Victor Sykes (played by Edgerton) that his sexuality is directly at odds with his religious upbringing, the result of a "God-shaped void" in his life.
A gifted young actor, Hedges allows us to see Jared's struggle play out internally, both during his intensive group therapy sessions with Sykes as well as in flashbacks to Jared's fraught path toward the realization that he's gay. Kidman and Crowe are excellent, playing two people who love their son even while struggling to understand him, trying in frequently misguided ways to do what they think is right.
Edgerton's script does sometimes struggle with the inherent difficulties of adapting a memoir. With a book, the writer possesses the ability to place us firmly inside its protagonist's head, knowing exactly what they're thinking even if they don't -- or can't -- express it outwardly. Films have a more difficult task that way (at least without resorting to torturous narration, which thankfully Edgerton never does), but he never quite figures a way to let us in. As a result, we don't fully get sense of who Jared is, outside of his struggles.
Even so, Edgerton demonstrates a keen sensitivity as a director, investing his film with an urgency, compassion, and an ultimately optimistic message of acceptance that will hopefully reach audiences who need to hear it.