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Why “Boy” #WontBeErased at the Oscars

October 23, 2018

boy_erased

The timing wasn’t lost on me that I caught a screening of Boy Erased on the same day the hashtag #WontBeErased went viral in response to the Trump administration’s attempt to define gender as immutable and determined at birth by genitalia. Writer-director Joel Edgerton’s quietly moving adaptation of Garrard Conley’s memoir about his experience in a gay-conversion program may technically be defined as a period piece — the events depicted took place in the early 2000s — but it couldn’t be timelier.

That could help Boy Erased become a major Oscar contender. At the very least, Edgerton’s fellow Aussies Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman seem like locks for supporting nods. As the parents of the title character (renamed Jared and played by Lucas Hedges), Crowe and Kidman give flesh and blood to figures who could have been cardboard stereotypes: a Baptist minister/car salesman and his traditionalist wife. Even though they place their son in an environment that could be psychologically and physically harmful, the film doesn’t demonize them. They’re flawed people, doing the best they can, and their depiction is a powerful lesson in humanism.

In addition to his duties behind the camera, which he executes with impressive skill — the film is a leap forward from his feature directorial debut, the 2015 thriller The Gift — Edgerton plays the program’s leader. He shows great restraint in not turning this guy into a mustache-twirling villain, even after the depths to which he will sink are revealed. Edgerton seems a more likely candidate for the Best Adapted Screenplay and Director races, but he could join Crowe in the supporting actor category as well.

Hedges’ performance may be judged too low-key to merit a Best Actor nod (plus, he could be competing against himself as Julia Roberts’ opioid-addicted son in Ben is Back). But he scored a supporting nomination for a similarly underplayed turn in 2016’s Manchester by the Sea, so I wouldn’t count him out yet.

Boy Erased opens on Nov. 2, just five days before the midterm elections that will affect the rights of LGBTQ people. I hope it reaches people in red and blue states alike. Unlike too many current politicians. this film isn’t just preaching to the choir.

 

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