Chloe Grace Moretz stars in Desiree Akhavan's eye-opening drama.
In The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Desiree Akhavan adapts the essence of Emily M. Danforth’s popular young adult novel into a quietly soaring work of vindication, the value of self-love and teen resilience in the face of grown-up arrogance and ignorance.
Prom night spells trouble for Cameron Post (Chloë Grace Moretz), a teen from a conservative Christian household who’s been exploring her sexuality with Coley (Quinn Shephard), a girl she met in Bible Study. The pair puts up with the pretense of dating guys so as not to freak out the family but hormones get the better of them and they make off for the backseat of a car. Inevitably, the night ends with them getting caught and Cameron’s distraught aunt sees no recourse but to ship her off to a conversion therapy centre to rid her of the ‘demons’ of same sex attraction.
So begins Cameron Post’s journey to God’s Promise, a place built for healing and intent on reforming the teenage disciples into ‘born again’ straight versions of themselves, the way God had presumably always intended them to be. The seemingly hospitable look of the woodland retreat notwithstanding, Cameron soon discovers the prison-like qualities of the environment, one in which self-expression is stifled. Luggage is scanned for contraband, decorating and mailing privileges have to be earned and the therapy sessions have the ring of indoctrination as they seek to rewire a person’s identity.
Alternately shamed by program director Lydia (a Nurse-Ratched-like Jennifer Ehle) and blamed by Coley, who accuses Cameron of having taken advantage of their friendship and trying to corrupt her, attempts at brainwashing Cameron fail to take hold even on days when she tries to trick herself into going along with the various sessions and group activities. It helps that, from the start, Cameron seems comfortable in her skin and approaches her time at God’s Promise with the same wry (and healthy) scepticism as the dissident, nonconformist camp teens she befriends (Sasha Lane and Forrest Goodluck in spirited supporting turns).
The Miseducation of Cameron Post has all the elements one would expect from a typical coming-of-age story and a conversion drama and yet, even though the film doesn’t shy away from showing the danger of internalized self-hatred, Akhavan and her capable cast will catch viewers off guard with an amicable sense of humor that’s used both as a means of resistance and a tool for skewering the process to which the teens are subjected.
Moretz is arguably better than she’s ever been and Akhavan takes full advantage of close-ups to show the subtle shades of disbelief wash over the face of a girl who’s asked to be untrue to herself. With a sympathetic mix of teen emotionality and steely resolve Moretz plays Cameron as a young woman emboldened with a critical outlook on the world, a character whose questions mainly rise from the counterproductive events that befall her instead of stemming from her own insecurities. Refreshingly, this coming-of-age story never really traces a journey of self-discovery but rather marks a burgeoning awareness of self-affirmation.
To some viewers The Miseducation of Cameron Post might feel somewhat subdued but Akhavan’s adaptation is shot through with authenticity and earnestness as a love letter to the justifiable need of teen defiance and the force thereof. The fact that audiences are encouraged to question the dubious and manipulative nature of conversion therapy without the film having to resort to the same blunt judgmentalism the practice itself is based on is a testament to the work’s subtlety.