First Hit: Outstanding cast delivers sublime performances in a powerful story about LGBT conversion programs.
Gay and lesbian conversion programs exist, and the number shown at the end of the film, astounded me. In this day in age, church supported Christian conversion programs believe they can change someone’s sexual preference by indoctrinating people in the “way of the lord.”
Here, we have Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges) heading off to college with the support of his homemaker mother Nancy (Nicole Kidman) and his father Marshall (Russell Crowe), a local church pastor and car dealership owner. With Marshall being a Baptist pastor he firmly believes that LGBT people are an abomination of the bible and his beliefs.
During high school Jared has a girlfriend Chole (Madelyn Cline) who would like Jared to be more sexually adventurous, but he is hesitant. This is the only indication that the audience really has that Jared is gay. During college he meets Henry (Joe Alwyn) who lives in the same dorm building as him. They become running buddies until one evening after playing video games, Henry tries to rape and sodomize Jared. It gets interrupted by a neighbor pounding on the shared wall, and Henry breaks down and pleads with Jared to not tell anyone about this event.
When the school calls home and tells Nancy and Marshall about this event at school, Jared, at first, says it’s not true. Marshall calls in his preacher friends and they decide as a group to send Jared to a bible-based conversion program to help Jared get the devil out of him and straighten him out. Going to the program the audience immediately sees how horrible it is.
The rules, the belief that bible loving men with no real training in psychology, can fix the gay problem with moral inventories, confessions, and intimidation is astoundingly ignorant of the truth. As Jared begins his moral inventory, he writes down the name Henry, crosses it out and writes down Xavier (Theodore Pellerin). The film wonderfully shows how Jared and Xavier met and what it meant to Jared.
When the pressure to state that Jared hates his father in front of the others gets to be too much, Jared gets up and leaves the room. He knows about the mistreatment of the others in the program. Stating he’s going to leave the program, the team running the program try to stop him. I loved how Cameron (Britton Sear), one of the other boys trying to be converted, stands up for Jared and helps him escape.
The scenes when Nancy decides and states she can no longer support Jared’s conversion program with Jared and Marshall were brilliantly presented.
Hedges was extraordinary in this role. His ability to create depth of character and keep the audience wondering what he’s thinking was amazing. Kidman was perfect. She was a follower until, it came down to the survival and happiness of her child. You believed her when she states her total support for Jared. Crowe was excellent as the preacher father who realizes in the end, it’s him that must change. Joel Edgerton (playing Victor Sykes) the chief therapist at the conversion center was excellent. He effectively gives the audience a taste of misguided beliefs. Flea does a great job playing Brandon, a converted and sober co-therapist. Alwyn was dynamite as the gay college student that couldn't stop himself. Pellerin is excellent as the sensitive man who holds Jared’s hand all night. Sear was amazing as the young high school football player who is severely punished in-front of the other attendees. Jesse LaTourette as one of the girls in the program was stunning in a mostly non-verbal role. Joel Edgerton did a wonderful job with both script and direction. Granted he has amazing actors at his mercy but it takes a great story and direction to make it work this well.
Overall: I left the theater saddened to know that so many of the conversion centers still exist because it is a reminder of religious ignorance.