Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post takes a look at christian gay conversion therapy camps with an eye as curious for the blasé as the insidious. As its titular hero is subjected to its invasive therapy as punishment for her sexual relationship with a friend, her experience within the camp’s sterile walls is a burden to be born for its monotony as much as its cruelty. Like the teenage years, sure, it’s hell. But it’s also incredibly mundane as you are waiting for your real life to begin.
Chloë Grace Moretz is the hesitant Cameron, forced into conversion by her caregiver aunt after the disintegration of a sexual relationship she still struggles to grasp. She is confused and passive where her fellow inductees are convicted of both the spiritual certainty and that of their supposed sinful leanings. She gravitates towards a few silent dissenter friends Jane and Adam (Sasha Lane and Forrest Goodluck respectively) while under the unfeeling watchful eye of Jennifer Ehle’s Dr. Lydia Marsh and her more warmly approachable ex-gay brother Reverand Rick (a mustachioed John Gallagher Jr.). The impositions of the camp’s strictures toward gender conforming activities and group therapy provide a structure around looser free time, and it’s there when Cameron can begin to truly grapple with her environment and herself.
Cameron Post mostly stumbles when it focuses its energies on Cameron Post herself. Where Akhavan’s eye is sharpest is for the world around Cameron: the vacuousness of the conversion camp where we expect something more sinister, the degrees to which her co-converts have assimilated or not, the humanity of the mundane. But Cameron herself is still figuring out her own stake, and isn’t given much of an arc or a player to make her developing inner life all that interesting to watch. The Miseducation of Cameron Post limits itself through The Miscasting of Chloë Grace Moretz. As much as it sparks elsewhere, its central journey remains a frustrating missed opportunity.
The film is flung out of a certain time, its early 90s period details a little bit of an unformed drag that almost accidentally serves to embody Cameron’s displacement. Its flashpan edit tinkers with memory and sexual desire more vibrantly that its more plotty, labored final third lacks, creating a casual sweaty wit that surprises. Akhavan allows for some longer takes that ground the film in urgency, even as it lingers on expected beats. The film feels like a memory, but someone else’s, and recounted as they’ve begun to reconcile it.
Intriguingly less outright condemning of its depicted religiosity and abusive indoctrination (for the film is refreshing in its plainspoken, assumptive approach to the evils of conversion therapy), Miseducation is valuable for its gentle tone. Less focused on railing against what it presents as obvious abuse and more interested in getting at the true experience of being young and developing one’s sense of self, this positions the film holistically. Rather than being polemical and divorce from the real threat such camps are to young queer people, Akhavan’s emphasis on character places us in the heart of the movement to end the abuse to which they are subjected.
Flawed, sometimes very funny, and rather lovely, The Miseducation of Cameron Post provides vital human context for a socially destructive parasite all too easily reduced to talking points. Ultimately forcing itself into its own structural conformity, the film still makes you yourn for something braver, more intuitively attuned to its protagonist.