** Warning. This review contains spoilers AND discussion of potentially triggering topics **
Arriving to the screening of Boy Erased almost an hour earlier, I began people watching. Slowly as the start time neared, people of all sorts of backgrounds and walks of life came flooding into the small theatre, excited to see one of the few LGBTQ+ stories on the big screen.
Soon, an elderly couple sat next to me, and we began to talk. They asked me why I was at the screening, to which I replied that I would be writing a review. I asked the same question back, but they gave me an answer that far surpassed mine. The two men began telling me the story of their own experiences with gay conversion therapy and the radical treatments they underwent to be ‘cured’ years ago. As they were telling me their story, I just sat there, listening in silence. Listening to them, the way that society treated them for being themselves, all of it really opened my eyes further. I know it is a cliché, but sometimes, you need a slap of reality. As much as we say that our society progressed and that we are ‘woke’, things that happened tens of years ago are still happening today. People are still being sent to therapy to get ‘fixed’. But as this movie worked so hard to highlight… there is nothing to fix. There is nothing to be ashamed of. No one should be punished, bullied, abused, or treated ANY other way for being who they truly are… for being themselves. Not “different” or “weird”, just themselves.
After the couple shared their story I sat in my seat, pondering what I just heard till the audience started to cheer. To our surprise, the author of the book (that this movie adapted) came to the screening! What made it even more jarring was that the book/film is based on his life and his lived experience. There was one scene in particular that was very emotional and disturbing, but having to witness it on screen sitting rows away from the person who actually experienced it in real life… that was something I was not expecting. It was powerful, it was raw, it was emotional. After the movie, the author held a Q&A session and discussed how it was surreal to watch that particulate scene on screen. It was painful… but a necessity to the plot.
After the audience settled down, the film started. Now, I am going to be blunt: this movie was average. It wasn’t great, it wasn’t bad… it was good. As I mentioned above, the premise of this movie is important to be shown and the content is instrumental in the continual efforts in increasing the depiction of LGBTQ+ stories and characters on the big screen. But it could have been executed much better. It feels like a pastiche of many different genres and their tropes condensed into a two-hour film that tries to tell many stories. In other words, the film tries to do too much. The movie itself has no central identity: an overambitious labyrinth of narrative devices used to progress a simple plot that covers many sensitive issues.
Although complex, the film can be easily split into three sections.
1. The depiction of events before Jared entered conversion
2. The depiction of events during Jared’s conversion
3. The depiction of events after Jared’s conversation experiences
With most of the plot revolving around the actions during his conversion process, the movie had a distinct ‘prison break’ feel to it that was really unsettling to the audience. Unsettling in a dual sense. First of all, it was unsettling because of the horrible ways that the ‘patients’ were treated, which was very hard to witness in this day and age. But more importantly (in the sense of the movie not the depiction of the actions) it was unsettling to the audience’s ability to cohesively follow and participate actively with the film, as it jumped from one narrative style to another in mere seconds. In the early parts of the movie, the narrative was told through the classic style of a ‘coming of age’ narrative with a LGBTQ+ lens. Then suddenly, the audience is treated to a major shift to another type of story: a prison break. As the movie progressed, more and more different methods of storytelling were used. This ultimately left the audience trying the adjust to what they were seeing, and in turn, spending less time processing the actions onscreen. Instead of jarring the audience by the horrible action depicted and raising awareness to the real issues, the only thing that jarred the audience was the continual shift from one method to the other.
Is it a coming of age with a LGBTQ+/survivor lens?
Is it a ‘prison-break’ movie?
It is a documentary?
It is a movie that pulls a Forest Gumpand tells the story through a series of flashbacks?
In all honesty, the movie is all of the above.
However, what saves the movie from being mediocre is the cast. Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe were simply fantastic. The technical quality of their acting really helped bring forwards the emotions and tonality that the scrip failed to highlight. In particular, Crowe and Kidman’s characters were portrayed in a very convincing way. The audience could feel the raw emotions behind the two: loving (debatable) parents who are struggling to accept their son’s sexuality and keep their faith in God. Hedges himself goes to great lengths to inject some emotion to the lifeless script. Overall, these three character really stand out, while the rest of the cast mirthlessly deliver their lines and then escape the audiences’ collective memory.
In conclusion, this movie nobly attempts to highlight a complex issue that still exists in our society. However, the film itself (without taking into consideration the story and its intentions) is just above average.
Rating – 6.5/10
In Canada, “LGBTQ[+] youth are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers”.In a recent 2011 study, researchers found that:
– 68% of trans students, 55% of LB students and 42% of GB students reported being verbally harassed about their perceived gender identity or sexual orientation.
– 20% of LGBTQ students reported being physically harassed or assaulted about their perceived gender identity or sexual orientation.
– 49% of trans students, 33% of lesbian students and 40% of gay male students have experienced sexual harassment in school in the last year.
This movie covers numerous sensitive issues that still affect many LGBTQ+ youth and young adults/adults. As demonstrated by the statistics above, the numbers are too high, especially in modern society. The existence of this film itself is a great moment in the history of LGBTQ+ and minority depictions in Hollywood and film. But, there is still much more work to be done. Real equality is still a long way away. And it is up to all of us, no matter our political affiliation, our beliefs/religion, or membership to excluded communities, to step up and continue the fight.