It’s been a good few years for pop stars in movies. First, Janelle Monáe hit the double with Moonlight and Hidden Figures in 2017. Then, Harry Styles whet his whistle in Dunkirk. Now, Lady Gaga looks set to win an Oscar for A Star Is Born. Boy Erased, meanwhile, stars queer icon Troye Sivan, who does his best to continue the trend with a nuanced performance opposite Hollywood royalty.
Set in small-town, southern America, the film follows Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges) — the son of a baptist preacher (Russell Crowe) who is forcibly outed as gay to his ultra-religious parents. As a result, he’s enrolled in a conversion programme which aims to retrain him as a straight, “normal” young man. What comes next is a gruelling yet powerful family drama about coming to terms with who you are.
Based on a true story, Boy Erased‘s strength lies in its brilliant performances. Hedges is perfect as struggling teen Jared, while Nicole Kidman shines as his conflicted mother. Russell Crowe gives a gruff account which is moving only in spurts, but at least he’s better than Flea who spits and squeals his way through yet another hammy cameo. Later, Sivan pops up and puts them all to shame. As fellow ‘pupil’ Gary, he provides emotional support to Jared when he needs it most. His advice: fake it until you make it. If Sivan is currently ‘faking it’, then expect fireworks when he pulls out the good stuff.
Away from the central performances, Boy Erased starts to stumble. Plot-wise, the film feels strangely muted and it can’t sustain the emotional highs (or devastating lows) you’d expect from the material. Elsewhere, the characters feel underdeveloped — especially Jared, who seems to lack any agency in his own narrative. It’s hard to portray meaningful relationships on-screen when the core characters don’t talk to each other about their feelings. We get it, they’re meant to be repressed. But if you can’t tell, then show us instead. Unfortunately, director Joel Edgerton’s patchy script frequently fails to do either.
Of course, it’s not all bad. Eventually, Jared takes control of his future and confronts his father. It’s a heartbreaking moment but Edgerton resists the urge to overdo it, instead opting for subtlety. As a result, we’re given a more realistic version of the encounter, one that visualises all of Jared’s emotions. His sadness, his anger and, most viscerally, his crushing disappointment at a father who has utterly failed him.