The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018)
I only got about halfway through The Miseducation of Cameron Post by the time I reached the SIFF screening of the Sundance award winner. Emily M Danforth’s young adult novel doesn’t even reach the gay conversion therapy camp at this point, but that is essentially where the film begins. Caught in the act during her junior year homecoming, Cameron Post (Chloe Grace Moretz) arrives at God’s Promise, an outwardly cheery, inwardly absurd and damaging “treatment” center to change her homosexual ways. Meeting other young people forced into this situation, Cameron begins to accept her difference as far from the damning, dangerous thing the adults around her want her to believe.
Bitter and darkly comedic, but swaddled in a layer of time-wizened hope, Desiree Akhavan’s film, co-written with her Appropriate Behavior collaborator Cecilia Frugiuele, is uncomfortably hilarious in its handling of Cameron’s position. Moretz’s portrayal of the confused teen lives in her silence: unsure of her position with her sexual orientation, and even her view of god, leaves her perplexed at landing in this ultimately damaging position. Asked to deny everything she’s come to find about herself, she finds herself under the constant gaze of claimed ex-gay evangelizer Rick (John Gallagher Jr) and his stern therapist sister Dr. Marsh (a pursed lip Jennifer Ehle, very unsettling in her conviction). Her connection with a girl named Jane Fonda (Sasha Lane, a true comedic gem) and a two-spirited Native American boy named Adam Red Eagle (Forrest Goodluck) opens her view to the other unwilling participants in this emotional manipulation.
As Cameron finds the gender conformity training and forced feelings pushed by the more hopeful-for-a-cure residents, the feelings unravel as justifications for action open fake resolutions as sad as they are uneasy. Pushed to open up to critically viewing her “sins”, Cameron is aghast at the expectations of her reasons for homosexuality. Attempts to blame sports, her parents’ deaths for her same-sex attraction, she is led to buy into the program until the hypocrisy of the place shine beyond god’s light. Moretz has never been better in a role that allows her blasé typecasting to melt away as uncertainty at what is happening reveals genuinity in the performance. As she encounters the dark side of denial, the real truth of repression shows its dangers. In two vital scenes, she confronts those in charge and discovers the depth to the dangers of a place like this: untrained adults unable to justify their treatment but rather delivering corrupt methods to fix what comes naturally.
Burying themselves behind a cover of Christian ideology, the belief in the film is personal in its assault for those hiding behind faith to try and save what doesn’t need saved. Some of it is banal— praying for perfect pitch so as to praise him properly—but so much shows the damage of treating humanity as an issue. Owen Campbell who plays a “disciple” named Mark possesses a near hopeless intensity culminating in a rage filled diatribe about scripture noting the conflicting messages in scripture. Quoting from 2 Corinthians, he laments on his father’s favorite scripture: “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” These teens are forced to swallow the ideals of older generations and those 2000+ years old, and their elders refuse to diverge from ancient history to find twentieth century enlightenment. In The Miseducation of Cameron Post, there is painful truth endured by the subjects, and the recent legal denouncement of the abusive systems brings a hard reality to the feature. Nearly 30 years on, we’re still trying to disband practices never shown to be beneficial. How little is learned when humans are not allowed to think for themselves.