Teenagers have it tough. Physical and emotional changes can wreak havoc. So imagine how much harder it would be if your parents decided these changes were just “wrong” and the only solution was isolation and religion. One teenager has to face just that dilemma in The Miseducation of Cameron Post.
This beautiful and moving film delves into the phenomenon of “gay conversion therapy centres”. They’re essentially religious boot camps designed to “straighten out” gay teens. Spoiler alert – “gay conversion therapy” is pseudo-science at best and quackery at worst. Also, it doesn’t work. If the idea seems a little familiar, it was also the premise of the 1999 comedy But I’m a Cheerleader starring Natasha Lynonne. But here director Desiree Akhavan goes for a more serious, if lyrical, approach.
It’s 1993 and the school year is just beginning. However, at the traditional homecoming dance, Cameron Post (Chloë Grace Moretz) is caught kissing another girl, Coley (Quinn Shephard). Not knowing exactly what to do, her aunt and guardian Ruth (Kerry Butler) enrolls Cameron in God’s Promise, a Christian school in a remote location. Cameron first meets the slightly disarming Pastor Rick (John Gallagher Jr) who sets her up in a shared room with Erin (Emily Skeggs) and has her sign a “contract” with the school. It soon becomes clear though that the real power at God’s Promise lies with its psychologist-director Dr Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle). Cameron soon finds a pair of kindred spirits in Adam (Forrest Goodluck), and Jane (Sasha Lane). But Cameron quickly comes to realise there’s a brutal side to God’s Promise.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post plays out like almost a reverse image of Dead Poets Society. Where the Robin Williams film exalted the role a great teacher can play in the lives of students, this movie explores the devastating effects of ineffectual and agenda-driven teachers. As hinted at in the title, God’s Promise is meant to be a school; but the staff spend so much time obsessing about “curing” the students of being gay, they barely have time for any real education.
Director Desiree Akhavan keeps things moving along despite the serious subject-matter. Akhavan and screenwriting partner Cecilia Frugiuele adapted Emily M. Danforth’s novel of the same name. While this is no doubt a pared-down version, the film still hits the novel’s beats. Akhavan adopts an episodic structure in which seemingly minor events build into the film’s shocking climax. The ending that follows is beautifully done and leaves the film on a poignant note. Even though It doesn’t tie up all the loose ends, I found it completely satisfying.
This film wouldn’t be nearly so successful without the contributions of two key crew members. Cinematographer Ashley Connor gives the film a burnished sheen with her exquisite images. And Julian Wass provides a note-perfect score to neatly complement the story.
Chloë Grace Moretz gets her meatiest part since The Clouds of Sils Maria with the title role here. She grabs the opportunity, delivering a performance of real depth as her character goes from bewilderment to determination. It’s hardly surprising that the studio are apparently pushing for an Oscar nomination for her. John Gallagher Jr (10 Cloverfield Lane) does well in a demanding part as Pastor Rick. Jennifer Ehle (A Quiet Passion) plays the film’s apparent antagonist with an unexpected compassion that belies her deluded beliefs. Sasha Lane (American Honey), Emily Skeggs (Mile 22) and Forrest Goodluck (The Revenant) all shine as fellow students.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post delivers a powerful message in an understated way. This is an “art film” in the best sense of the term. In underplaying its hand, it becomes something far greater.
Director: Desiree Akhavan
Cast: Chloë Grace Moretz, John Gallagher Jr, Emily Skeggs, Jennifer Ehle
Release Date: 6 September 2018 (limited)
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David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television