written by Joel Edgerton, based on the memoir by Garrard Conley
directed by Joel Edgerton
by Bill Chambers Even though it doesn't quite stick the landing, Joel Edgerton's The Gift was one of the more promising directorial debuts from an actor in recent years, but alas his sophomore feature barely ascends to heights from which to fall. Based on the memoir by Garrard "Jared" Conley, Boy Erased opens in the unpleasant dark of dawn as only-child Jared (Lucas Hedges, who either won or lost a coin toss with Timothée Chalamet) shares a deafeningly silent breakfast with his parents, Nancy (Nicole Kidman) and Marshall (Russell Crowe, swollen to the proportions of a Charmin bear), before his first day at the ex-gay ministry Love In Action--a branding that oozes grim irony. Marshall is a Baptist preacher who owns a car dealership in the heartland; he is, in other words, awful, and when Jared returns from college less confident in his heterosexuality than ever, Marshall, scrambling to pre-empt any damage to his standing in the community, invites a couple of snake-oil salesmen into his home in the middle of the night to fix the problem. (As H.L. Mencken put it, "Puritanism: the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.") At this rehab centre, the residents are stripped of their possessions and their identities are tamped down in sexless white shirts. Activities include charting the sinners on one's family tree and, despite the place being co-ed, sorting the boys on a descending scale of manliness. It's all presided over by Victor Sykes (Edgerton himself; what does it say that Jared's three biggest adversaries are played by Australians?), a tacit closet case who strives for avuncular beneath the harsh judgments, leaving the dirty work to the visiting "success story" Flea inhabits with impressive rancour.