If ever a mainstream movie called for more trigger warnings for a recovering child of the religious right than Boy Erased, we haven’t seen it.
Viewers won’t likely find something uplifting and hopeful, but they will get a fairly accurate glimpse into what it’s like for queer people born into families of particular dogmatic persuasions.

Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman play Marshall and Nancy Eamons, the parents of a teenage son who displays little of the rebellion of his age, and instead an earnestness and devotion to them and their faith tradition that classifies homosexuality a sinful choice. The kitchen coming-out speech from a skilled and reserved Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea) in his role as Jared is short and features an apology. He willingly complies with his parents’ plan to “help him” at a counseling center, then he’s horrified and demoralized by what happens there. Is his only choice really between losing God and losing himself?    

The script for Boy Erased is based on the 2016 memoir of the same title by Garrad Conley, and it’s laced with the kind of insider knowledge that comes from lived experience—one that not everyone sent to so-called gay conversion therapy actually lives through. The characters have been renamed, but photos just before the credits reaffirm that they’re modeled on Conley and his real family.

While Kidman’s character inexplicably moves from a blind obedience to the Baptist church to courageous protection of her son (and we want to praise her when this moment arrives at long last), there’s more to her emotional journey that we missed learning about. Likewise with Dad. Crowe’s depiction of the preacher and car salesman is well-executed and doesn’t slip into stereotype, yet what’s really in his heart, even as it seems to change ever so slightly, is closed to the audience. It’s Jared’s strength and fight for survival that redeems the telling.
Its flaw is the almost unavoidable trap of boiling a complicated cultural situation into a shallow Hollywood stew. That’s not to say it’s unworthy of being seen. Bearing witness isn’t just for the Baptists.  

+ Important story courageously told
– Some somewhat shallow characters

Directed by Joel Edgerton
With Kidman, Crowe and Hedges
Violet Crown, R, 115 min.