Set in a Christian gay conversion camp in 1993, The Miseducation of Cameron Post stars Chloë Grace Moretz as a young teen bundled off to the ominously named ‘God’s Promise’. Moretz, as Cameron Post, finds herself resisting being told who she is or isn’t, but also struggling to come to terms with what that actually is.
You are likely already forming an opinion of what is likely to happen. The whole set-up lends itself to the trope of blank-faced ‘educators’ brainwashing confused and highly sexed teens. That is until an epiphany on Cameron’s part sets her on the path to self realisation and adulthood. However, through Desiree Akhavan’s gentle direction and a collection of understated performances (not least from Moretz herself) we instead spend the duration of the movie with a less is more approach.
Praying the gay away is given little shrift, with such low key fun poked only at the grainy ‘Blessercise’ home work-out videos. In its place is a more psychoanalytic approach deployed by the brother and sister camp counselor team. Dr. Lydia March (Jennifer Ehle, Saint Maud) has a whiff of ‘Nurse Ratched’ about her. Her perma-grin deployed while explaining that the teens are displaying SSA (Same Sex Attraction) as only a symptom of ‘wrong’ parental influence.
Her brother, Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr), is the ‘success story’. Having successfully overcome his own SSA (after apparently being ‘rescued’ from a gay bar) he preaches that it can be done.
What makes The Miseducation of Cameron Post different to its peers is that the One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest influence is slight, at best. The ‘disciples’ are indeed free to leave at any time. But when Adam simply states “and go where?” the lack of options in a world telling you that you are wrong is apparent.
The movie explores its characters by giving them space to simply be. When Disciple Mark breaks down at being denied returning home due to his father stating he is ‘too effeminate’, it is clear that parental influence is indeed the reason for these teen’s woes. Just not in the way that Dr. March claims.
Moretz balances her lead character well. There are repressed glimmers of rage. She confesses to having no faith in God and so her homosexuality is, to her, nothing to apologise for. But she fears hurting those around her and when she makes friends with like-minded cynics at the camp, she opens up about feeling lost. There is no great evil for the disciples to rally against. Indeed, Reverend Rick is played extremely sympathetically as a lonely man who has repressed a whole side of himself.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a thoughtful delight that eschews obvious conflict. Instead, it employs subtle camera work to just give voice to those struggling to find what to say. When asked if she is mistreated at the camp, or bullied, or afraid, Cameron answers truthfully, “no”. But despite the lack of such things, the movie shows enough suffering to make the point that gay conversion camps are inherently flawed.
“How is programming people to hate themselves not emotional abuse?” she says as the movie ends on a soft note, unresolved.
Words by Michael Record