“The Miseducation of Cameron Post”, which won the Grand Jury Prize for US Drama at the Sundance Film Festival early in this year, is about a young sexually confused girl who happens to be pushed into a bad place cruelly oppressing her sexuality. While there are a number of uncomfortable moments showing us the cruelty of gay/lesbian conversion therapy as expected, the movie calmly and sensitively observes its heroine’s struggling emotional journey nonetheless, and the result is an engaging coming-of-age drama to be appreciated.
Set in the early 1990s as reflected by several period details shown on the screen, the movie opens with a Sunday church meeting attended by a group of teenagers including Cameron Post (Chloë Grace Moretz). Although she looks docile as listening to a pastor emphasizing abstinence, Cameron has actually been in a romantic relationship with one of her female schoolmates, and their secret relationship unfortunately gets exposed when they attempt to have a little fun time during their prom night. As a consequence, Cameron’s aunt, a devout Christian who has taken care of her since her parents died, sends Cameron to a gay/lesbian conversion center named God’s Promise, which is run by Dr. Lydia March (Jennifer Ehle) and her brother Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr.).
While not so pleased about being stuck in God’s Promise, Cameron tries to follow the gay/lesbian conversion program as much as she can. She befriends her roommate who cheerily welcomes her, and she also gets the frequent counseling sessions from Reverend Rick and Dr. March. Reverend Rick says to her that he was cured of his homosexuality thanks to his sister’s therapy, and Dr. March, who is often as chilly as Nurse Ratched, is quite determined to sever the root of Cameron’s homosexuality as asking many personal questions to her.
Nevertheless, Cameron is not so sure about whether she is doing the right thing, and that is why she comes to hang around with two of her fellow ‘disciples’: Jane Fonda (Sasha Lane) and Adam Red Eagle (Forrest Goodluck). As more seasoned and rebellious members in God’s Promise, Jane and Adam tell Cameron a bit about how she can present herself well in front of Dr. March and Reverend Rick, and Cameron becomes a little happier than before as bonding more with these two new friends of hers.
As time goes by, Cameron gradually comes to realize how oppressive her current environment really is – and how useless and harmful gay/lesbian conversion therapy actually is. She cannot help but think of her girlfriend from time to time, and she naturally feels hurt a lot when she later comes to realize that she is betrayed by her girlfriend. Her roommate looks more well-adjusted in comparison, but, what do you know, it turns out at one night that she has also struggled a lot just like Cameron.
As leisurely moving from one episode to another, the adapted screenplay by director Desiree Akhavan and her co-adaptor Cecilia Frugiuele, which is based on the novel of the same name by Emily M. Danforth, deftly moves around different emotional modes. There is a humorous scene where Cameron’s small act of shoplifting happens to be spotted by her roommate and then they seriously discuss about what to do about that along with another disciple, and there is also a lively scene where Carmeron gets a chance to lose herself a bit in front of other disciples as music being played in the background.
The situation eventually becomes a lot more serious not long after a painful moment involved with one of the disciples in God’s Promise, who feels devastated and frustrated as rejected by his father again for not being masculine enough. What subsequently happens is shocking to say the least, but the movie thankfully maintains its calm, restrained approach even at that point while never overlooking how much that happening affects not only Cameron and other disciples but also Reverend Rick, who, sooner or later, will have to face how misguided he and his sister have been.
Like any good drama films, the movie depends a lot on the talent of its performers, and they do deliver strong performances on the whole. Chloë Grace Moretz, who has steadily advanced with a string of commendable performances including a delightful supporting turn in “Clouds of Sils Maria” (2014), is believable as subtly conveying to us her character’s emotional development along the story, and Sasha Lane, who drew our attention for the first time with her breakout turn in “American Honey” (2016), and Forrest Goodluck, who previously played the son of Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in “The Revenant” (2015) did a good job of supporting Moretz in their scenes. In case of John Gallagher Jr. and Jennifer Ehle, they bring considerable humanity to their respective roles, and that is why it is all the more disturbing to observe what their characters try to do to Cameron and other kids under their supervision. They surely have good intentions, but, as sharply pointed out later in the movie, what they do is basically emotional abuse, and they remind me again of how some people can cause misery and unhappiness to others in the name of faith.
Overall, “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” is a modest but solid work to be admired for the sensitive and thoughtful handling of its subject, which is still quite relevant even at this point considering that gay/lesbian conversion therapy is not officially banned yet in some states of US. As a guy who had struggled with his sexuality for many years, I felt lots of sympathy toward its heroine and other adolescent characters in the film, and I was certainly moved by its quietly hopeful ending. Nothing is certain for them, but they feel better about themselves, don’t they?