Coming-of-Age and the Futility of “Conversion Therapy”
Title: The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1hr & 30mins
**** (out of ****)
There is a chilling moment early in The Miseducation of Cameron Post that is also a telling one, and it isn’t surprising later when the film calls back to it at a crucial moment. It takes a little bit of set-up, though, before I get to the details of that moment. Our protagonist has been forcibly enrolled into a “conversion therapy” camp following a controversial incident at her school. For the uninitiated, the camps are designed to “cure” those within the queer community by introducing a bit of Christian Gospel into their lives. It usually involves frank emotional abuse and the strict policing of every behavior.
That leads us to the chilling moment. It is our protagonist’s first night in the camp, and the camp “counselors” have the nightly duty of peering into each dorm room with a flashlight. The intention is clear: They are attempting to determine whether those queer “indiscretions” are occurring under their purview. The motivation, though, is a bit murkier: Cam (Chloe Grace Moretz), who has been processing same-sex attraction, and Erin (Emily Skeggs), who has been placed there for apparent “gender confusion,” are bunked together. One would think such a pairing would be antithetical on the part of this center, which decides the gender identities and sexual preferences of its campers on their behalf. Pairing two girls-by-their-definition, then, is kind of inexplicable.
After all, the camp’s founder, Dr. Marsh (Jennifer Ehle), makes it abundantly clear just with her attitude toward Cam’s chosen name that the concepts of gender and sexuality are exactly the opposite of fluid. “Cam,” as likely guessed by most, is a shorthand for “Cameron,” which, the good doctor says, is masculine enough. Such a proclamation, of course, involves a lot of assumption about what “masculine” means. For the doctor and her counselors, including her younger brother Rick (John Gallagher Jr.) and his girlfriend Bethany (Marin Ireland), there is a clear and finite definition, provided for them by the Word of God Himself.
Co-writer/director Desiree Akhavan’s film is as much an exploration of such beliefs and how they inspire the mindset that inspires such a camp as it is about how Cam came to be at this place: Once upon a time, Cam was in a relationship with a boy, and then she met Coley (Quinn Shephard) at her Bible study (Yes, the irony hits the group of campers pretty hard). They were caught – by Cam’s boyfriend, no less – having sex in a car outside of prom. Cam’s aunt Ruth feels the necessity to send her to God’s Promise, the camp in question. The only positive about this experience, as expected, is the presence of the other campers.
Besides Erin, who was sent here for an affinity toward “masculine” sports like football, there are Adam (Forrest Goodluck), a Native American born in a male body but with “a female soul,” Helen (Melanie Ehrlich), who likely admitted herself after falling in love with a female choir member (as she tells it) because of the girl’s angelic voice, Jamie (Dalton Harrod), who was “too feminine” for his Christian father’s political campaign to remain at home, and Jane Fonda (Sasha Lane), which may or may not be (and probably isn’t) her real name. The group navigates each of their personal journeys, which are as capable of choice contented moments as they are of gutting tragedy, and the group meetings, led by Rick or Dr. Marsh, that are just excuses for the people in power to impose their ego on the campers.
Importantly, Akhavan and co-screenwriter Cecilia Frugiuele, adapting Emily M. Danforth’s novel of the same name, balance the tone of this material in such a way that it doesn’t wallow in the despair of the rut in which these kids are stuck. For every moment in which one camper calls home to ask to leave (only to be met with a brick wall), there is a moment of levity, many of them to do with the other campers, whose personalities thankfully distinguish each of them. This all means that The Miseducation of Cameron Post prioritizes its characters and a human story over a more obviously grim telling of this tale.
(Review by Joel Copling)
(Review by Chase Lee)