Boy Erased feels ‘oddly stagnant,’ lacking the punch its story and history demand

There’s a rare moment of humour in Boy Erased, a scary story about a young man (Lucas Hedges) who questions his sexuality and ends up sent to a religious-themed gay conversion therapy group by his parents.

The discredited therapy amounts to psychological torture, but in one scene he’s merely complaining to his mom (Nicole Kidman) about the spelling errors in the group’s literature, and points out a particularly egregious example: “We always come back to Dog’s true design.”

The film is based on the memoir of the same name by Gerrard Conley, adapted, directed, produced by and co-starring Joel Edgerton, who last performed this kind of all-in filmmaking in the excellent 2015 thriller The Gift.

Boy Erased isn’t quite the equal of that directing debut, but it’s an important story and gets full mileage out of Hedges’ subdued performance. As his parents, Kidman and Russell Crowe are nicely three-dimensional; they can’t stomach the idea that their son might be gay, but they never stop loving him.

As Victor Sykes, commandant of the “Love In Action” conversion camp, Edgerton is the nearest thing to a villain, alongside David Joseph Craig as his self-important aide-de-camp, and rocker Flea as a kind of anti-gay drill sergeant. They order their charges to list any “deviancies” in their extended families as they explore what made them “turn gay.”

Edgerton says he tried not to demonize anyone in the film, which may have been too nice an idea; the film feels oddly stagnant, just when the drama demands the most fireworks. But the performances help bring the whole thing home. Here’s hoping the Australian writer/director/producer/star comes out swinging on his next multi-hyphenate project.

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