Sundance London 2018: The Miseducation of Cameron Post Review
Desiree Akhavan’s genuinely funny debut, Appropriate Behaviour, saw her working through her thoughts on being a bisexual Iranian-American woman trying to deal with traditional expectations while finding her place in the world. The Miseducation of Cameron Post, an adaptation of Emily M. Danforth’s novel of the same name, feels like an extension of that film in many ways, except actor-writer-director Akhavan stays behind the camera on this occasion.
Set somewhere around the start of the early-90s it picks up on the story of Cameron Post (Chloë Grace Moretz) heading out to the prom with best friend (and secret lover) Coley Taylor (Quinn Shephard) and their respective boyfriends arm-in-arm. They’ve managed to keep their trysts secret from their conservative community but a quick fumble in the back of the car later they are caught out and Cameron is shipped to God’s Promise, a religious boot camp that ‘cures’ teenagers of their S.S.A. (same sex attraction) and puts them back on the ‘straight’ and narrow.
Much like Akhavan’s debut there is an understated modesty to the narrative that is sincere about its message of self-discovery and standing up to intolerance. As wrong-headed as the religious programme at God’s Promise may be she finds a semblance of humanity in those in charge, with the centre run by straight-backed Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle) and her younger counsellor brother Rick (John Gallagher Jr.).
Soon after arriving Cameron strikes up a friendship with Adam (Forrest Goodluck) and amputee Jane Fonda (Sasha Lane) who sneak off to smoke weed in the cellar and disappear on long hikes to cultivate their tiny crop. All around them they can see the brainwashing in full effect as the other kids repent their ‘sins’ by being coerced into denying their true feelings and finding salvation in Jesus.
Moretz is the main draw in the cast and does a good job of showing the seeds of doubt that are planted in her mind by Dr Marsh. If you spend long enough in the madhouse the insanity will eventually find its way in, but deep down Cameron knows who she is and the steamy flashbacks at night of the time spent with Coley only serve to reinforce that. The trio of Moretz, Lane and Goodluck provide nice lighter touches of humour but not everything is sweetness and light with one boy pressurised into self-mutilation after another devastating rejection from his father (although the scene that precedes this is a little pretentious and overplays its hand somewhat).
Counsellor Rick promises to be the most interesting character of all, although there isn’t enough screen time allowed to dig far enough beneath the surface. He is a ‘recovering’ homosexual who became the pet psychology project of his older sister and is held up as the perfect example of programme’s healing powers. There is an empathic edge to Gallagher Jr.’s performance that becomes more evident and mirrors the growing feeling of self-doubt spreading through a group who can only deny themselves for so long.
The targets in The Miseducation of Cameron Post are easy to hit but still hold relevancy even away from the confines of religious belief. And while there is nothing revelatory being uncovered by Akhavan the message of acceptance is one delivered with genuine care. It’s hardly landmark queer cinema but is confident enough about its ideas in a way that will no doubt see it embraced by the LGBTQ+ community and sane-minded people alike.
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