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New Release Review - THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST

THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST review
A teen is sent by her Christian guardians to a gay conversion therapy centre.


Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Desiree Akhavan

Starring: ChloĆ« Grace Moretz, Sasha Lane, John Gallagher Jr., Jennifer Ehle, Forrest Goodluck, Steven Hauck, Quinn Shephard

THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST poster



Child actors notoriously struggle to continue their careers into adulthood. For every Ethan Hawke there are a dozen Haley Joel Osments, and for female stars there's the added double standard stigma of audiences' puritanical discomfort at seeing the child that grew up on screen now act out adult, sexualised scenarios.

Perhaps all too aware of this, young star ChloĆ« Grace Moretz took a year off from acting (though you wouldn't know it from glancing at her crammed imdb page), conceivably to draw a line between the childhood and adulthood chapters of her career. Moretz is in her early twenties now but I suspect she'll be playing teenagers for the next decade. She's still a teen in writer/director Desiree Akhavan's adaptation of Emily M. Danforth's novel The Miseducation of Cameron Post, and it might be her meatiest role to date.


THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST review

The bizarre and cruel American practice of sending kids to 'conversion therapy' centres to "pray the gay away" has, like so many of America's worst elements, been pulled out from under the rug since the election of Trump, with his VP Mike Pence an ardent supporter of the nonsensical practice. It's a tradition that has been left unchecked by successive Republican and Democrat regimes, and one which shows no signs of going away.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post could have been set in 2018, but Akhavan's film is set in the very specific year of 1993, when the titular teen (Moretz) is caught in a back seat fumble with her secret girlfriend, Coley (Quinn Shephard). Cameron's legal guardians (her natural parents died when she was a child, an odd detail that the film never further explores) promptly pack her off to God's Promise, an evangelical Christian school that doubles as a gay conversion centre.

There, she befriends young hippy Jane Fonda (Sasha Lane) and Adam (Forrest Goodluck), a Native-American whose father converted to Christianity upon entering politics. The three form something of a resistance to the practices of the school, which is run by the Nurse Ratchit like Lydia (Jennifer Ehle) - described by Jane as "a disney villain you want to fuck" - and Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr.), a Ned Flanders wannabe who claims to have successfully undergone a conversion to heterosexuality himself.


THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST review

In one of the film's creepier moments, Lydia tells Cameron to stop resisting "the process." It's a line reminiscent of a Body Snatchers movie, and a reminder that the central goal of places like God's Promise is to steal its students' individuality. Cameron, Jane and Adam maintain their independent spirits in the face of such adversity, and they're an inspiring trio whom anyone who ever called out an authority figure on their bullshit will feel a kinship with.

The trouble with Akhavan's film is that she never offers viewers an insight into what exactly the "process" is beyond a few Cuckoo's Nest style group discussions. We never see any of the pseudo-science that is presumably employed at such places put into practice, and frankly, God's Promise looks a lot more amenable than the Irish Catholic school I was forced to endure for most of my teens. Apart from Lydia, Rick and the latter's "girlfriend," there doesn't appear to be any other adult staff members, with security guards nowhere to be seen. The kids are allowed to go off on hikes into the surrounding woodland without adult supervision, something the most liberal and tolerant school wouldn't even stand for. It's as if the film doesn't want to upset Christians, but let's face it, the only people who will be watching The Miseducation of Cameron Post are those of us already opposed to such homophobic anti-science.


THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST review

Moretz is onscreen in practically every scene, and while she's certainly an engaging presence, the film's refusal to look behind the curtain and explore the just as intriguing Rick and Lydia and their controversial practice is highly frustrating. The former is a particularly fascinating figure, and Gallagher delivers the film's finest piece of acting when Rick finds himself sharing a breakfast table with the film's young central trio, his quiet contemplation as he gulps down cereal speaking volumes. With the all-star Boy Erased still to come, 2018 has been a banner year for movies critiquing religion, and what largely distinguishes the good (First Reformed; Apostasy) from the bad (The Children Act) is the former's willingness to engage with both sides, reminding us that Christians aren't cartoon villains like Ehle's stern Lydia, but rather people who genuinely believe they're doing the right thing.

The 1993 setting is largely decorative, though it allows for a singalong to one-hit-wonders 4 Non-Blondes' What's Up? that brought me right back to the year in question and a similar impromptu karaoke breakout in my own woodwork class. There is one key moment however that shows we have made some small progress in the last 25 years when Cameron's adoptive mother asks her "Don't you want to have a family some day?" It's a question that's thankfully redundant today in most of the western world, but while institutions like God's Promise still prosper, let's not congratulate ourselves too heartily.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is in UK/ROI cinemas September 7th.




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