THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST
Directed by Desiree Akhavan
Starring Chloe Grace Moretz
F.I.V.E. star rating:
F. Form: 3.5 / 5 [style, structure, technique]
I. Impression: 3.5 / 5 [impact, relevance, provocation]
V. Vision: 4 / 5 [audacity, innovation, perspective]
E. Experience: 4 / 5 [enjoyment, engagement, delight]
TOTAL: 75 / 100
Chloe Grace Moretz plays Cameron Post, who is caught hooking up with another girl at the back of a car by her prom date is sent to gay conversion therapy. The camp, called “God’s Promise”, is run by Dr Lydia Marsh, played by the always brilliant Jennifer Ehle who is described by the children at the centre as like having your own personal Disney villain. This is true in a way but Ehle plays her strictness and intimidation with glimpses of misguided compassion. She’s not a simple villain. She runs it with her brother Reverend Rick, played by John Gallagher Jr) who himself is an “ex-gay” and was “cured” by her sister (I’m going to be using a lot of inverted commas in this review for obvious reasons).
Director Desiree Akhavan lays out the absurdity and hypocrisy of the situation so plainly that, while sacrificing a sense of surface-level urgency, actually brings forward the authenticity of what it might be like in conversion therapy. It doesn’t turn up the emotional beats any more than necessary. An act of self-harm committed by one of the teens, as inevitable as it was, isn’t met with grand protestations or scenes of heightened emotionality that would have pushed Akhavan’s commitment to authenticity into something artificial. The shock and sadness of the situation is still there, felt more immediately because of how still and silent the scenes were immediately after.
You won’t find unnaturally long monologues, one-note villains, forced character arcs, intentional satire or grand gestures in this movie, which tend to populate the less successful queer coming-of-age stories. Akhavan, herself a queer person, doesn’t fall for any of these traps. She present it as is and lets the situations breathe on their own. Any case against homosexuality is riddle with ironies and absurdities, especially when religion is part of the argument. Akhavan doesn’t make fun of the Christian characters because she’s not that kind of filmmaker and she doesn’t need to. They wear their hypocrisies so earnestly that the comedy just creates itself. Despite the premise, this is a very funny film but with a low-key sense of humour.
There’s a “Blessercise” tape we see the teens workout to - a kind of Jane Fonda exercise video with a Christian spin - that is not something the filmmakers made up. It’s something they found that actually exists in the real world. The camp sings Christian rock songs with so much passion, some are close to tears, while the rest are rolling their eyes. Through the eyes of an outsider, the circumstance is utterly ridiculous but those absurdities don’t come as clear when viewed from the inside. I grew up spending a significant amount of time in church and Christian youth groups when I was younger and it wasn’t until later when I realised how strange and damaging everything was, especially for someone gay.
I remember being taken to a conference called “Sense and Sexuality” (yet another ironic title) where I attended a seminar by a pastor who was once gay but saw the light of God and got married, had kids and was now spreading his message of sexual “re-orientation”. He was celebrated in the church as a success story. I attended this conference hoping to get some answers because I had many failed attempts at turning myself straight and at this point I hated myself. I told myself, maybe there was a tiny hidden room in my brain with the lights turned off. Maybe I needed to find a way to switch me on to normal. But something shifted. It wasn’t noticeable at first. My self-acceptance came so gradually that it never occurred to me while it was happening.
As I sat in that seminar, at some point I began to stop listening. I began to hear gibberish and nothing that pastor said made sense. Suddenly, the absurdity of the situation I was in became clear to me. He was talking about sexual brokenness and how he managed to slap himself awake and put himself back together. I too, felt myself awake - but in the opposite way. I realised I kept getting told that I was broken but I felt completely whole. I realised there was nothing to fix. Suddenly, like a light switching on, I was okay with myself. This moment of clarity came so quietly that I almost missed it. Actually, quiet may not be the correct word.
From the outside, it may seem quiet or small because the change is wholly internal, but it was like a gust of wind suddenly swept over my head and heart and blew everything into the right place. An upheaval and peacefulness all at once. Akhavan and all the performances capture this life-altering inner revolt. On the surface it appears subdued but I recognise the hurricane happening inside. And that’s what makes the film’s ending, in its simplicity and stillness, so powerful: sitting on the back of a truck, wind in the hair, the world anew.