"Would you throw a parade for drug addicts?"
A pair of teenage girls meet in Bible Study and bond. At their school's Homecoming dance, they sneak off and do what they've been doing for awhile, when they're not studying the Good Book or engaging in other wholesome teen activities: they make out.
One of their dates finds them.
It's 1993 in small town Montana. Cameron gets sent to God's Promise, a gay conversion school run by an evangelical therapist and her prize pupil, her own brother, now a youth minister.
Based on a YA novel by Emily M. Danforth, The Miseducation of Cameron Post features impressive shots of its rural setting and an engaging story composed of important moments.
Chloë Grace Moretz disappears into the lead role. At twenty, she can still pass for a teen, and she already has a lifetime of acting experience.1 The other residents feel credible. We see the disturbing complexities in Erin (Emily Skeggs), who accepts entirely the program at God's Promise, without her sexual feelings changing at all. We also see the experiences of Cameron's newfound friends at the camp, rebellious Jane (Sasha Lane) and gifted Adam (Forrest Goodluck). And we see surface ripples in Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr.) and Dr. Lydia (Jennifer Ehle), soft-spoken fanatics with photogenic smiles.
The "disciples" of God's Promise have a fair bit of freedom in their off-hours to engage in wholesome activities. The administrators allow Cameron to continue running and hiking, because these are "gender-neutral sports." Her success in athletic activities have otherwise come under suspicion as causes of her "Same-sex attraction." They do not refer to the characters as gay, lesbian, or homosexual at God's Promise, because they do not believe such people exist. Their charges have fallen to the "sin" of "SSA."
Although the staff do not physically abuse the "disciples," God's Promise is no paradise. Bedroom doors remain unlocked, and staff-- always, it seems, opposite sex staff-- can poke head and flashlight in at any moment during the night, to prevent residents from making out or masturbating. God's Promise seems as concerned with masturbation as SSA.
Adam gets told that his traditional Lakota beliefs contribute to his sinfulness. That attitude, and a scene where Dr. Lydia shears Adam's long hair, recall the horrific residential schools to which many Native Americans were sent. Adam serves to remind us of the nightmares to which places like God's Promise can lead.
Despite its serious nature, the script finds opportunities for laughter. Its approach differs dramatically from the noteworthy camp handling of the same subject matter, But I'm a Cheerleader, but both find humour in similar observations. If you believe, as the God's Promisers do, that "SSA" can and should be cured, cloistering queer teens together in a bucolic setting seems an approach destined, hilariously, to fail.
This film won 2018 U.S. Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, but it hasn't pleased everyone. A reviewer at Slate declaims that the film's subject matter requires a "sledgehammer," and not "kid gloves." Perhaps, but that's not this film, which, softer approach notwithstanding, certainly makes its case against trying to "cure" non-heterosexuality.2
Miseducation does contain some problems. Firstly, Cameron is self-assured from her first scene. She only briefly considers that she may be in the wrong. Her doubt passes quickly. She knows who she is; she doesn't even tell the reeducation center counselors what they want to hear, a popular activity at God's Promise. She makes an excellent role model, but her personal strength weakens the drama.
Secondly, the most serious development involves a student breaking down, with significant, disturbing, and long-lasting consequences. The student is a secondary character. His experience has a devastating effect on the principals, but we don't truly engage in the horror he undergoes. A film about his life would make a powerful statement indeed.
A state investigator asks Cameron if they're abused at the center. When she insists what God's Promise does is psychological abuse, he says he's not there to investigate the school's mission. Ultimately, Cameron, Adam, and Jane have to make decisions about their own lives, and how they will respond to an often-hostile world.
That world has changed; this film takes place in the early 1990s. Nevertheless, many American states permit such camps to exist, many countries still criminalize same-sex attraction, and many people still vilify (for example) folks like Cameron. The Miseducation of Cameron Post works as narrative, character study, and grim reminder.
Directed by Desiree Akhavan
Written by Desiree Akhavan and Cecilia Frugiuele, from the novel by Emily M. Danforth
Chloë Grace Moretz as Cameron
Sasha Lane as Jane
Forrest Goodluck as Adam
John Gallagher Jr. as Reverend Rick
Jennifer Ehle as Dr. Lydia Marsh
Emily Skeggs as Erin
Quinn Shephard as Coley
Steven Hauck as Pastor Crawford
Kerry Butler as Ruth
Dalton Harrod as Jamie
McCabe Slye as Brett
Marin Ireland as Bethany
Melanie Ehrlich as Helen
Owen Campbell as Mark
Christopher Dylan White as Dane
Isaac Jin Solstein as Steve
1. Only once did I start thinking of her as Chloë Grace Moretz instead of Cameron Post. One of the film's funniest lines references Stephen King's Carrie. Amusing on its own, it takes on an inter-textual element when we realize Moretz played Carrie in the third film (!) adaptation of that novel.
2. The film depicts an attempt to erase same-sex attraction, but it would be difficult to ignore that traditional culture treats as pathological any number of personal inclinations, such as gender non-conformity or asexuality.