KVIFF 2018 Review: ‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post’ Scares Them Straight
The mere idea of gay conversion therapy camps, where budding homosexuals are reprogrammed to straighten out and repress their sinful desires, was seen as so inherently ridiculous that it made for prime sendup material in the campy 1999 comedy But I’m a Cheerleader!.
But flash-forward two decades, and the new drama The Miseducation of Cameron Post takes a disarmingly thoughtful approach to the same concept. It’s especially surprising that the film doesn’t only take the situation of these teenagers seriously, but seems to give a fair shake to the deprogrammers, too.
Directed and co-written by Desiree Akhavan (2014’s Appropriate Behavior) from Emily M. Danforth’s novel, The Miseducation of Cameron Post stars Chloë Grace Moretz in the titular role of a young woman caught making out with her best friend (Quinn Shephard) at her high school prom.
Her religious family - Cameron was raised by a conservative aunt after her parents died in a car crash - decides to send her to a conversion camp called Promise, and that’s where she will remain for the rest of the movie while coming to grips with her own sexuality.
Cameron doesn’t seem to put much stock in the camp’s purpose or methodology, which includes filling an iceberg diagram with the underlying problems that have led her to her homosexual desires.
“Write that you spent too much time time bonding with your father,” co-camper Jane Fonda (Sasha Lane) tells her. “Or that you participated too much in sports. They love that shit.”
Distressingly, some of the teens undergoing therapy genuinely want to experience change. They include Cameron’s roomate Erin (Emily Skeggs), desperately trying and failing to repress her desires, and Mark (Owen Campbell), whose strained relationship with his father has led to his internment.
Cameron, meanwhile, uses her time in camp to come to her own understanding - and appreciation - of who she really is. And make some new friends, including Jane and Adam (Forrest Goodluck), along the way.
But the movie also gives the conversion camp authorities a fair shake. They include top therapist Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle) and her gay-reformed brother Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr.), both of whom are painted as three-dimensional personalities trying to do the best for their wards - as misguided as they may be in their mission.
Lest you imagine The Miseducation of Cameron Post takes the side of the conversion therapists, however, there’s a clue right there in the title. The underlying knowledge that conversion therapy is inherently wrongheaded was laughable twenty years ago but is now portrayed as dangerously misguided.
Unusually, the very real drama at the climax of The Miseducation of Cameron Post is distanced from its lead character; that serves the movie’s theme just fine, but leaves Cameron’s own journey open-ended.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post was a surprise winner at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, where it was awarded the top Grand Jury Prize; it’s an appealing if not entirely successful film that tries to understand the mission of conversion therapy rather than fully attacking it, and is the rare movie that will be accessible to open-minded audiences on either side of its central issue.