Joel Edgerton's Boy Erased centers on a school committed to the opposite of education, a school of cruel ignorance and unlearning, a sort of reverse Hogwarts committed to tearing away each student's singular essence and disgorging into the world muggle after muggle. Based on Garrard Conley's memoir, the film finds a young man coming out as gay to his evangelical parents and then getting packed off to what their set calls "gay conversion therapy," a term so specious and detestable it should never be afforded the dignity of appearing without scare quotes. Both book and movie stand as vital exposes of abusive zealotry, of the Dickensian charlatans and tormentors running programs that purport to straighten out LGBTQ kids, but also of the parents and church communities willing to overlook those kids' mistreatment.
Boy Erased plays out as something like reportage. It documents with an incisive drabness the group sessions, garbled sermons and general shoddiness of Love in Action, the program that 19-year-old Jared (Lucas Hedges) gets enrolled in by his parents, played by Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe. Director Edgerton resists the impulse toward satire. Instead, he holds to Jared's perceptions, showing us how a thoughtful young man slowly learns that the adults in charge of his life know less about the world than he does. The dramatic through line is Jared's growing certainty that the only real sin he sees is Love in Action itself. There's not much for him to do in many scenes, though, other than to observe and look increasingly uncertain. When Jared finally erupts, Hedges nimbly navigates the character's hurt, fear and burgeoning pride -- his relief at having at last found his voice.