The Miseducation of Cameron Post takes place at a Christian conversion-therapy camp where counselors attempt to convince a gay teen (Chloë Grace Moretz) that she is straight.
"You're at an age where you're vulnerable to evil," says a camp employee, a remark the movie proceeds to expose as ironic. The movie's message is blunt — conversion camps teach gay teens to hate themselves — but its storytelling methods are often restrained, and it generally avoids caricature.
Moretz has the title role as Cameron, found making out with her female best friend on prom night. Her Christian conservative aunt (the young woman's parents are dead) sends her off to a rural camp called God's Promise, where religious administrators (denomination not specified) use class teachings, group therapy, and individual counseling to steer kids away from SSA (camp jargon for same-sex attraction) and toward heteronormative lives.
The movie is adapted from the book by Emily M. Danforth, a YA novel, and the ages of the students have been raised here. Cameron is said to be in 11th grade, and her cohorts look to be about the same age.
This allows the film's director, Desiree Akhavan, to be candid about Cameron's sexual experiences, in order to convey the idea that she is not confused about her sexuality, or in doubt about her feelings. She was physically involved with another young woman because she was in love, and the woman she loved was "perfect."
This leads to an interesting scene of the camp's "doctor," played with icy calm by Jennifer Ehle, asking Cameron if the validation achieved via a relationship with this "perfect" being might have been a way of ameliorating adolescent insecurity. It's enough to knock Cameron off balance, as is the moment when a fellow student denounces her for not taking the program seriously, thereby creating a space that is "not safe," an amusing co-option of the language of the left.
All Cameron knows for sure is that she's unhappy and in pain. She cries at night and calls her aunt, pleading to return home, but is persuaded to stay at God's Promise and to "give it a chance."
She does, but there are obstacles. One, of course, is that the camp is full of gay teenagers, who when alone commiserate about their predicament. Registering most strongly here is Sasha Lane as a teen with the improbable name of Jane Fonda (her parents were originally hippies), who's gaming the whole situation, telling the grown-ups what they want to hear, biding her time, waiting for freedom.
Other teens are truly conflicted, made so by a desire to retain the love of devout parents who sent them to God's Promise – Owen Campbell has some nice scenes as a young man who loves being a Christian, who has obviously absorbed its lessons of decency and empathy, and can't resolve the religion's teachings with his own sexual feelings.
It's a problem for the movie that these supporting characters come off as more interesting than Cameron herself. She is too often a blank exterior. I suspect this has to do with the way her character was defined in the novel, where readers had access to her thoughts. The filmmakers probably counted on the natural charisma of Moretz to make up the difference, but it doesn't suffice, and Cameron, for a YA heroine, remains frustratingly hard to read.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Directed by Desiree Akhavan. With Chloe Moretz, Sasha Lane, Owen Campbell, Jennifer Ehle and John Gallagher Jr. Distributed by Film Rise.
Parents guide: Not rated
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Playing at: Ritz Five