Based on the novel of the same name, director Desiree Akhavan brings a startling coming-of-age story to life, set in an early 90s gay conversion camp, the second film this year to tackle the injustice (Boy Erased comes out later this year). Unlike the book, the film starts with Cameron being admitted to the camp in an effort by her religious aunt to save her soul; going back and forth to the moments Cameron realising and acting upon her sexual leanings that lead her to getting caught. The camp is filled with poignant young characters trying to find themselves in a grossly horrible situation, where the staff in charge aren’t threatening but infuriatingly inept; it never dulls their optimism or yours, though history tells us otherwise.
The film stars Chloe Grace Moretz as a gay teen in Montana, she’s thoughtful and sceptical of the world around her and pining for her girlfriend Coley Taylor (Quinn Shephard). Her aunt drops her off at God’s Promise Camp, where she’s inducted to rooms, teachers, ‘therapists’ and students. Cameron is quietly ambivalent to the therapy she receives, at one point a teacher refuses to call her ‘Cam’ as it’s too male and they don’t want to confuse her further. There’s no shortage of clichés the camp uses, cringeworthy but all together funny from the audience’s current day view. In one scene Cameron is advised to make stuff up by her friend Jane Fonda (Sasha Lane – American Honey) and build on the made-up cliches to explain being gay – “were your parents too familiar or not enough?” “They died in a car crash” replies a dead-pan Cameron.
The other kids in the camp are eager to make friends and distance themselves from their sexuality in return for their freedom, with eyes everywhere it’s hard to tell who’s putting on an elaborate show and who has been legitimately brainwashed. The camp is led by Reverend Rick, who has supposedly been cured of his homosexuality by his sister who also works as the camps’ therapist. There’s no hint of malice, just misguided belief that these kids must be saved, and their soul can only be saved with prayer.
Cameron quickly grows to like Jane and her friend Adam (Forrest Goodluck – The Revenant) who have been sent to the camp to save their souls or avoid being a political embarrassment, as is the case with Adam. While the group have fun, Cameron’s mind wanders to her girlfriend Coley and their trysts behind closed doors. Akhavan directs a loving portrayal of sexual exploration, which isn’t as exploitative as it could have been in an inferior director's hands, though these scenes do linger in the moment more than any other.
Like many films that feature a teenage group, there’s the unsuppressed power of optimism and cynicism which lends itself well to this story of gay rights. The baseless, uncompassionate staff at the camp are a demonstration rather than an embodiment of homophobia; the kids are against the system not its tools. Though some of the children are clearly traumatised by their time in the camp and history tells us this film won’t end well for the kids at least for another few decades, it still leaves you with that quietly rebellious, youthful optimism.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post is set for release on the 7th of September, 2018.
Word by Sunny Ramgolam @SunnyRamgolam