Boy Erased is the rare adaptation of a memoir to feel like a memoir. Joel Edgerton’s interpretation of Garrard Conley’s memoir of his time in a gay conversion program avoids the bombast and dramatisation associated with the form, instead opting for modest authenticity.
Anchored by an achingly compelling performance from Lucas Hedges in the lead role – with solid supporting work from the likes of Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Troye Sivan and Edgerton himself – Boy Erased is a simple portrait of the pain associated with these insidious centres. There’s no hyperbolic violence or victimisation, but simply a relentless realisation of how crippling enforced denial can be. Stylistically, Edgerton vividly sketches the era without resorting to cliché.
Despite its subject matter, Boy Erased isn’t an especially queer film. This is, in part, by design; Edgeton, a straight man, is clearly pitching the film at mainstream audiences. For once, though, I don’t think this is a weakness. Jared – Hedges’ character, based on Conley – is grappling with his own sexuality and, for reasons that quickly become clear, is uncomfortable around physical expressions of that sexuality. The chasteness might seem like a copout, but in context it’s a personal way of framing a personal story.