Come as you are
Desiree Akhavan’s second feature, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, has been hotly anticipated since it first aired at Sundance earlier this year. It’s a significant but completely warranted step up for the director. Akhavan’s first feature, Appropriate Behaviour, was a hit with audiences and critics alike but was shot on a shoe-string budget and starred Akhavan herself as protagonist Shirin – an American-Iranian twenty something who is struggling to cope after breaking up with her girlfriend and coming out to her family as bisexual. By contrast, The Miseducation of Cameron Post stars Chloë Grace Moretz as the titular Cameron, and also enlists the talents of Sasha Lane (notable for her stunning performance in American Honey) and Jennifer Ehle (Fifty Shades of Grey, A Quiet Passion, I Kill Giants).
The film focusses on Cameron, a teenager who is sent to gay conversion therapy camp ‘God’s Promise’ by her adoptive Aunt and Uncle after being caught with her best friend on prom night. Confused and alone, Cameron is enlisted into the rigid Christian ideology surrounding homosexuality (basically, it’s a sin) and ends up befriending Jane (Lane) and Adam (Forest Goodluck). The three, bought together by circumstance more than anything else, cling to each other to preserve their own identities whilst trying to survive being told that everything they are is wrong.
So much of Cameron Post is about identity, and it’s particularly prominent that Cameron, Jane, Forest and other teenagers at the camp are all in their most formative years. Teenage-hood is a tough time as it is, but Cameron and her peers face inordinate pressure and oppression from the adults around them. These are the same adults who offer their ‘help’ with nothing but smiling faces, yet the doctrines they are delivering are harmful and dangerous.
The narrative itself has high and lows which could have easily translated into a melodramatic and highly emotional film but Akhavan retains her signature cinematic style of letting events play out for themselves without telling the audience how they should be feeling. Though Cameron Post is dark in its subject matter, there are moments of genuine humour as Cameron navigates her way through a bizarre and ultimately nonsensical experience. Blessercize, a Christian workout video, is a particular comedic highlight, and one which I am utterly convinced really exists.
Equally, Akhavan deftly crafts scenes with real emotional weight – in one particular scene we watch as Cameron breaks down in tears for the first time since her ordeal began. Akhavan doesn’t allow us to look away, the camera is close on Moretz’s face as she sobs uncontrollably. It feels authentic, and not at all contrived even though it’s clear that Cameron has been holding this in for a while. The camera is often used in this way, closing in on characters in a way that feels almost claustrophobic. The few scenes where the camera gives the characters space to breathe often occurs outside – Cameron, Jane and Adam are permitted to hike together without a chaperone. Within nature, they are freed from the rigid constraints of both the camp counsellors and the closeness of the camera.
Moretz shines as Cameron, firmly grounded in what she knows is right but pushed right to the edge. Moretz actually has very little dialogue – Cameron Post is a relatively quiet film and reflects the silent reverence of churches and places of religious institution. Everything is hushed, spoken in whispers and when Cameron and her friends break out of that with a hilarious rendition of 4 Non Blondes ‘What’s Going On’, they are duly reprimanded. Both Lane and Goodluck are excellent counterparts for Moretz, aided by that their characters having fleshed out back stories. Jane and Adam are not simply there as walking sticks for Cameron, they have their own traumas and struggles to come to terms with.
An expertly crafted coming-of-age film, The Miseducation of Cameron Post lights the way for more films exploring sexuality for young women. It’s an area which is shockingly empty within cinema – particularly films on the subject directed by women (the two most recently successful films about queer women, Blue is the Warmest Colour and Carol, were both directed by men). It’s clear that there is no stopping Akhavan now, I just can’t wait to seeing what she does next.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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