At the very start of Boy Erased, the head therapist of a gay conversion therapy program asks a room full of teenagers for a show of hands of everybody who is imperfect. A sea of tentative limbs rise. There are more boys than girls, and skittish glances circle around the group as the young men silently try to figure out whether this anguish will ever pass. Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges) is the titular boy working against his demons, following the course of psychological erasure in order to exorcize the emotions that are sabotaging his existence. Being gay is a condition that must be treated, just like any other disease, though it’s dealt with more like a vice.
In an ocean of coming-of-age movies, teenagers grappling with anxiety in mundane situations dominate the genre. By focusing on everyday struggles, these films feel accessible by reflecting adolescent rites of passage, like the crushing normality of a first love in Call Me By Your Name or the restlessness of a determined senior year in Lady Bird. But this fall, the torment of the teenage boy runs deeper. Instead of coming of age naturally while inevitably suffering a little in the process, from the brainwashing of Boy Erased to the intoxication in Beautiful Boy and the bashing-through of Mid90s, these kids are inherently defined by what causes them pain. If they do eventually grow up in the process, that’s just a bonus.
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