TIFF Film Review: ‘Boy Erased’ Is Exuberant with Lucas Hedges’ Showstopping Turn

An intimate and enthralling look into the internal conflict between religious standards and free-wielding choice, Joel Edgerton‘s deeply felt “Boy Erased” is an important and immersive experience, one that surprises as one of the year’s finest pictures.  Anchored by a career-best turn from young Lucas Hedges, and another stellar and magnificent outing from Nicole Kidman, “Boy Erased” astonishes the senses and speaks to different parts of society while using the same language of cinema.  It’s a stunning achievement.

Boy Erased,” tells the story of Jared (Hedges), the son of a Baptist preacher (played by Russell Crowe), who is forced to participate in a church-supported gay conversation program after being forcibly outed to his parents.  Jared battles his own relationships including that of his mother (played by Kidman), the director of the program (played by Joel Edgerton) and two boys from his past (played by Joe Alwyn and Theodore Pellerin).

Writer/director Joel Edgerton fearlessly tackles the film, adapted from the memoir by Garrard Conley, with respect and sensitivity that is needed in today’s cinema.  Edgerton doesn’t just speak to people on either side of the equation, as many films of similar subject matter do.  For the first time, Edgerton is offering a look into the conflict that can plague individuals on the fence between their own spiritual beliefs and want for people to be free.  Edgerton isn’t just preaching to the choir; he develops one of the most compelling stories this year, adding layers upon layers of questions that the viewer will ask themselves.  A true marvel.

Theodore Pellerin stars as “Xavier,” and Lucas Hedges stars as “Jared” in Joel Edgerton’s BOY ERASED, a Focus Features release.

Star Lucas Hedges broke out in a big way for “Manchester by the Sea” in 2016, netting himself an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.  What he achieves as Jared is something we couldn’t have imagined for him.  A collection of emotions, emboldened by the talent of one of the next generation’s most gifted actors.  Looking at him work his magic assures that the future of cinema is in good hands.  An Oscar-caliber performance the Academy would be bold to recognize.

Nicole Kidman, who continues her “second wind” of strong, outstanding performances in her later career, is sublime.  She taps into her maternal instinct, even at times channeling a younger Dolly Parton with her whimsical, sweet persona.  Kidman finds her stride in the final scenes where she’s able to unleash all the toys in her goody bag.  She manages to capture the film’s best lines, inspire, question, and even bring you to tears in one single scene.

Russell Crowe‘s religious and misguided father is one of the actor’s best performances in years.  Crowe finds the conflict, attaches himself, and follows through on everything that the film requires.  Joel Edgerton‘s deceptive and harmful Victor Sykes says lots when delivering “instructions” or reveals himself without saying any words.

The technical choices in the film are subtle yet striking.  A seemingly flat paint palette of color is washed over the film, to add to its dreary, frightful tone.  Eduard Grau‘s camera work is intimate and touching while Jay Rabinowitz puts the film on a pace of swift and impeccable enjoyment.  A beautiful song called “Revelation” is a bonus – capturing the innocence of the film and characters, at the most sensible moment.

Boy Erased” flashes its strength in a smaller, informal portrait of love and determination.   You don’t expect something seemingly so simple, to harness so much energy and passion, and yet, here it is.  From writer/director Joel Edgerton, it’s the best thing he’s given us yet behind the camera.  Certainly praying, it is not the last.

“Boy Erased” is distributed by Focus Features and opens in theaters on Nov. 2.

GRADE: (★★½)

Be sure to check out the Official Oscar Predictions Page to see where “BOY ERASED” ranks among the contenders!