Adapted from Emily M. Danforth’s book, The Miseducation of Cameron Post is the second feature from director Desiree Akhavan. In 2014, Akhavan explored the complexities of a modern woman’s sexuality (simultaneously winning over indie film audiences) in Appropriate Behaviour – a film which refreshingly focused on bisexuality – more specifically in conflict with family heritage, culture and societal expectations. Here, Akhavan returns to familiar themes; bisexuality is replaced by lesbianism, disapproving family by gay conversion therapy and modern women by a herd of confused, self-loathing teenagers, circa 1993. When her passionate, teenage affair with a female friend is discovered, she is swiftly sent to God’s Promise – a residential for sinful teens where acoustic guitar wielding Christians attempt to “save” them from their same-sex attractions. The Miseducation of Cameron Post comes five months ahead of the highly anticipated, conversion therapy memoir adaptation Boy Erased – already heavily tipped for award season glory. Akhavan’s is a film which is equally concerned with the teenage experience as it is the therapy being delivered and lessons being handed out. From the film’s outset, Cameron isn’t concerned about her sexuality – she’s aware of it, comfortable with it and as she explains in the film’s trailer, doesn’t see herself as gay, or as a problem to be fixed. Cameron is in many ways your average American teenager. She enjoys track and field, she gets high, she is riddled with self-hate and she doesn’t know if she believes in God. Yet, her sexuality is picked apart by those around her who wish to rescue her from it; for Cameron the lessons just don’t add up.
The staff at God’s Promise are far from your typical screen villains. For the most part you feel sorry for the genuinely well-intended Rick who has himself recovered from the “illness” and who remains dedicated to what he truly believes to be the greater good. Meanwhile, emotional abuse is ripe and rampant for all disciples of the camp – trapped by both the pressure to abandon their true sexuality and their natural, pubescent instincts. The camera rarely strays from the face of Chloë Grace Moretz whose solid performance is complemented by Sasha Lane and Forrest Goodluck who bring forth a comical and cynical reaction to God’s Promise; much needed relief for us the audience. As someone who grew-up naive and horribly self-assured about the world, thanks to the black and white teachings Christianity had instilled in me, I found myself physically cringing as the camp staff frequently labelled things ‘sin’ in a dangerously blasé way. My body clenched up as I witnessed the vulnerable teens learn to see our very grey world through the extreme headings of good and bad, wrong and right. To see fragile and already confused teens put under pressure to reject urges to be with the same sex, to masturbate or to express themselves through anything other than karaoke or art and crafts was painful but deeply fascinating. It felt unexpectedly close to home for me, a testament to the film’s agonisingly accurate portrayal of the arrogance of those who believe and the invisible damage being done to those who don’t. The film is carried by an anxiety-inducing score which captures the drawn out anguish of those at its heart. It’s a strong return from Akhavan who remains one of the most important voices within the combined exploration of sexuality and cinema. What Akhavan explores is always difficult, complex and interesting but, crucially, always treated with simultaneously a sensitivity and a sense of humour.
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