The Miseducation of Cameron Post in the Backseat of her Prom Date’s Car

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The Miseducation of Cameron Post – A Movie Review

By Ross

Based on the celebrated novel by Emily M. Danforth, the deep and insightful new film, The Miseducation of Cameron Postdirected and cowritten by Desiree Akhavan (2014’s “Appropriate Behavior“), with an assist from cowriter Cecilia Frugiuele (2012’s “Ailema“), follows a young and slightly detached teenage girl in 1993 America struggling to find her way past perceived shame and guilt to the land of acceptance and solidity.  The press release states: “Set in Montana in the early 1990s, the 470-page book follows eight years in the life of its titular heroine. Cameron is 12 years old and just beginning to
discover her homosexuality when her parents are killed. She is sent to live with her
evangelical aunt and uncle, who send her to a Christian gay conversion center when they
found out about her sexuality.” The film tightens its view on the events that sculpt the life of Cameron, singling the scenario down to focus on the Christian gay conversion center and what ideas they try to instill in her head. She is a lost soul, that is true, without anyone to guide or help her understand the sexual awakening feelings that are ratcheting around inside.  But as the film most succinctly illustrates with a delicate but strongly formulated manner, the negative formations that are attempted to give her life a framework to live by are disturbing and most definitely harmful to her psyche.
Vacant inside a kiss from her boyfriend, the titular character is discovered, more naked and exposed than she is in reality, in the backseat of a car as she bravely tries to explore her sexual self with the prom queen. The moment is highly traumatic, creating a knot of tension that anyone who has ever held a secret tightly bound in shame can understand.  The feeling is drenched in awkwardness and dread mainly because of a unstated fear of love’s loss. There is also a strange excitement that rattles around somewhere inside her head, heart, and veins as Cameron, played with trembling passion and introspection by the very talented Chloë Grace Moretz (“Let Me In“), breathes in the confusion and the fear of discovery in a way that squeezes our soul. Her manner reminds us all of similar moments when we too felt something that is perceived as shameful and dangerous if it ever was revealed to all. Every living person knows this discomfort. It hangs in a space of detached fearfulness, where words feel heavy and ineffective, but actions, although scary, speak louder than anything our voice to manage. For Cameron that comes on Prom night, dressed in an uncomfortably pink dress, when her secret gets found out.  It’s a breathtakingly brilliant set-up, filling us all with relatable discomfort balanced with the excited sense of personal discovery and exploration. We know this isn’t going to turn out like so many other positive-themed dramas of acceptance and love.  This is the other story, one where parents and caregivers act in a way that, sadly, our current Vice-President might approve of. A story about abandonment and the act of discarding the real person that is their child, in hopes that a different one can be forcibly created in its place, a child that is deemed more acceptable to their narrow minded narrative.
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Chloë Grace Moretz.
After her secret is revealed to all, including her kind but overwhelmed and religious aunt, played beautifully by the marvelous Kerry Butler (Broadway’s Mean Girls), Cameron is sent to a gay conversion therapy center in a remote neck of the woods. That devastating conversation, the one between her and her aunt as they drive forward, is not the focal point of this story, but in that engagement, it is a well-scripted slight exchange between two humans who can’t find a way through to one another. They sit not speaking side by side in a car as the aunt drives her away to be left in the care of others. The child must be altered and ‘fixed’, thinks the aunt, even when we know there is more wrong with her own personal view, rather than the child that is in her care.
The place of abandonment looks more like a beautiful outdoorsy summer camp than what it actually is, but this camp couldn’t be further from that idyllic visual.  Run by the strict Dr. Lydia Marsh, played with a stern and frighteningly oppressive manner by the detailed Jennifer Ehle (Broadway’s Oslo) giving us one of the more strongly structured performances, she, with the helping hand of her brother, Reverend Rick, played delicately with warm distraction by the glorious John Gallagher Jr., focus their intense gaze on the teens’ obsession with sin for sin’s sake.  The children are told that homosexuality doesn’t really exist, but what feels in the moment like exploration, expansion, and fun, is actually the evil enemy trying to turn the vulnerable youth to a world of sin.  “And click, it’s got you” they tell her and the others. It’s a telling and disturbing dynamic, especially to the scared and abandoned children, all sent by a variety of different types of care givers and parents. We get a smartly guided glimpse into their pre-camp world, and it’s a sad demonstration of detachment and destruction. The program enlisted at God’s Promise, the Christian gay conversion camp, is that they are all “struggling with same-sex attraction” based on a number of stereotypical responses to attachment and interest, and utilizing their outlandish discipline, dubious methods, and earnest Christian rock songs, these children, like Cameron can and must be “cured“, much like Reverend Rick was cured by his over-zealous sister.
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The psychology is terrifying to watch, torturing and brain-washing each one to hate and be horrifically ashamed of their sexual identity.  It’s almost comical to watch the adult brother and sister preach their messed up belief structures, and “I’d laugh if I didn’t want to cry” knowing what complex trouble they are building inside the brains and hearts of these poor teens. Her roommate, Erin, played perfectly by the magnificent Emily Skeggs (Broadway’s Fun Home) has desperately drunk the kool-aide, trying her best to be good and learn how to avoid her same-sex attraction that hides out in the hard to see lower region of her proverbial iceberg of lust. But we also see her struggle. Rounding out the intricate mindset of the fellow students are too young men, played compellingly by Christopher Dylan White (“Freak Show“) and Owen Campbell (“As You Are“), battling themselves in different ways with troubling results.
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Chloë Grace Moretz, Sasha Lane, Forrest Goodluck.
Luckily for Cameron, she finds and forms an unlikely supportive  community who has no intention to change, putting up and tolerated their treatment while secretly hiking to a serene place of unity and resistance. Her connection to the amputee stoner Jane, powerfully played with a simple passive resistance by the talented Sasha Lane (“American Honey“), and the Lakota Two-Spirit, Adam, played sweetly and compassionately by Forrest Goodluck (“The Revenant“) is compelling and secure,. They create a family on her own terms, learning everything they need from one another in what it means to empower themselves and find the needed confidence to embrace their identities, all the while waiting with the blind hope of escape and release.
The winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival (U.S. Dramatic Competition), The Miseducation of Cameron Post quietly stands up against the idea of conversion therapy, and wins.  Much like the other up-coming starry film, “Boy Erased” with Lucas Hedges (“Manchester by the Sea“) as the troubled but obedient gay teen, Miseducation… declares emotional and logical war on these twisted ideas of gay conversion. I could be wrong, but “Boy Erased” appears to be more focused on a battle forged with his parents, played by the wondrous Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe and their belief structure.  Akhavan keeps Miseducation‘s director of photography, Ashley Connor and the script focused on God’s Promise and it’s attempt to destroy the internal belief structures of the discarded youths in their care. Cameron’s parents are long gone, and her caregiving Aunt gets only minor exploration, as the flash light’s focus targets God’s Promise’s caretakers attempt to wash away their perceived sins and make them disciples of their faith. There is no hiding from the dangerous religious doctrine they apply, even when a tragedy brings an unwanted focus from one useless bureaucrat to the camp.  It’s upsetting and disturbing, and with the current administration in Washington unfortunately making The Miseducation of Cameron Post more relevant than ever, it is no surprise to our emotional reaction.  Those who will see this aren’t the problem, but those who may need this will be lightened of their shame-filled load, finding warmth and love in the last scene.  Even though we know that road ahead for these three brave souls will be rough and dangerous, we join with them in a caring hopeful embrace.
TRT: 90 min.
Distributor:  FilmRise
NY Opening Theaters (8/3): The Quad Cinema and The Landmark at 57 West
Director: Desiree Akhavan
Screenwriters: Desiree Akhavan and Cecilia Frugiuele
Cast: Chloë Grace Moretz, John Gallagher Jr., Sasha Lane, Forrest Goodluck, Jennifer Ehle, Emily Skeggs, Owen Campbell
Producers: Cecilia Frugiuele, Jonathan Montepare, Michael B. Clark, Alex Turtletaub
Executive Producers: Desiree Akhavan, Olivier Kaempfer
Based on the Novel by: Emily M. Danforth
Director of Photography: Ashley Connor
Editor: Sara Shaw
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