by Rebecca M. Alvin
Photo Top: Forrest Goodluck, Sasha Lane, and Chloe Grace Moretz in The Miseducation of Cameron Post, a FilmRise release.
Conversion therapy, the discredited techniques of turning someone gay into someone who is heterosexual, has a long history. And while there is little debate within the psychiatric community about it, the practice is not specifically banned federally, or even in the majority of states. It’s a particularly troubling situation when this “therapy” is applied to children, as is the case in Desiree Akhavan’s latest film The Miseducation of Cameron Post.
As disturbing as the subject matter is, the film is actually quite funny. Though the backdrop is their confinement to God’s Promise, a kind of boarding school/conversion therapy center run by “formerly gay” Rick (John Gallagher, Jr.) and his intense sister Lydia (Jennifer Ehle), a psychologist, it is the connections between these teenagers that really anchor the film. Chloe Grace Moretz, who introduced the film’s screenings here at the Provincetown International Film Festival a couple of months ago, stars as a young lesbian, Cameron, who finds herself at God’s Promise after being caught with her girlfriend in the backseat of her boyfriend’s car on prom night. She quickly meets up with comrades Jane (Sasha Lane) a biracial girl with a prosthetic leg who was raised on a commune, and Adam (Forrest Goodluck) a Lakota boy who identifies as two-spirit, the Native-American identity that is both male and female, or as he describes it in the film, a person whose male spirit has been consumed by the female spirit.
We’re living in times when subtlety is lost in the fervor of sociopolitical as well as religious righteousness. But here, Akhavan, who adapted the script with Cecilia Frugiuele from Emily M. Danforth’s young-adult novel of the same name, reintroduces nuance. Rick and Lydia are not evil, they are just totally wrong. The parents who drop their kids off at God’s Promise vary from those who are emotionally abusive to those who are just frightened and don’t know what else to do. The perspective of the film, largely through Cameron’s eyes (although also through Akhavan’s, I suspect), takes it as a given that conversion therapy is absurd and that the main characters are not struggling with their sexuality, rather they are struggling with other people’s acceptance of their sexual and gender identities.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post manages to bring a serious, often devastating situation to light, while also reminding us of that cadre of friends we had in our youth. Adam is hilarious in his deadpan manner. Jane’s defiance and sarcasm masking vulnerability ring true. And Moretz, an actress more experienced in large budget, mainstream films, is perfect in her portrayal of a young woman who is unsure about a lot, but not about her desires. Akhavan’s style is quietly powerful, and the film itself is both funny and tragic in its portrait of these kids, who reside in Montana in the early 1990s, but could be living anywhere in America today.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post opens Friday, August 24 at Waters Edge Cinema, 237 Commercial St., 2nd fl., Provincetown. For tickets and specific showtimes go to the box office or visit watersedgecinema.org. For more information call 508.487.3456.