The Miseducation of Cameron Post
February 8, 2019
Chloë Grace Moretz
John Gallagher, Jr.
1 Hr., 30 Mins.
rom night isn't exactly great for Cameron Post (Chloë Grace Moretz). Just as the evening's lulling, her boyfriend catches her going down on the prom queen, Coley (Quinn Shephard), in the back seat of a sedan. In what seems like the span of a blink, Cameron is forced, by her adoptive aunt, Ruth (Kerry Butler), to stop attending classes at her high school and move to God’s Promise, a conversion-therapy center upstate.
Cameron knows that the enterprise — which is run by the ruthless Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle) and her supposedly formerly gay little brother, Rick (John Gallagher, Jr.) — is bullshit. But there is little she can do besides go along with the lessons and strict rules as imposed by the Marshes. At least not until her aunt is satisfied.
The day-to-day at God's Promise is dreary. In group settings, the center’s “disciples” work on personality icebergs, which entail they scribble down what they think might be the root of their homosexuality inside a cartoon rendering of the Titanic’s biggest opponent, for instance. (When Cameron confides in a sharp-witted classmate, and tells her that her parents died when she was young, the classmate advises that Cameron include that fact in the iceberg if she can’t think of anything else.) Individually, Cameron partakes in one-on-one meetings with either both or one of the Marshes, where they try to get to the bottom of the cause of her “sin.” In the interim, Cameron tries to figure out who of her peers she can be real with: Some, after all, appear to ardently believe in God’s Promise’s cause.
Eventually Cameron settles on the impressively composed Jane (Sasha Lane), whose hippie upbringing has been marred by a hyper-religious new stepfather, and Adam (Forrest Goodluck), a Lakota two-spirit who was comparably pushed into God’s Promise by his dad, who has recently converted, and seemingly devoted his life, to Christianity. The trio smokes weed (which Jane has miraculously grown in secret), goes on hikes; there is much bonding over the institution’s shamminess, and brainstorming new ways of appeasing higher-ups without getting in trouble.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post foremostly covers Cameron’s experiences at God’s Promise. Flashbacks are offered — usually pertaining to her clandestine sexual relationship with Coley — but are rare. Directed by the Iranian-American Desiree Akhavan, who co-wrote the adapted script with Cecila Frugiuele, the film evidently wants to be two things. It wants to be a movie highlighting the horrors of conversion-therapy camps, which, despite becoming increasingly outmoded, are still legal in 41 states and believed in by many. It also wants to be a coming-of-age story that both values self-truth in the face of adversity and unlikely friendship.
Akhavan and Frugieule’s slice-of-life style is convincing and emphatic; their keeping so in touch with the claustrophobia and ubiquitous oppression defining God’s Promise ups sympathy. We, too, feel held snug by its degrading grounds. Moments of rebellion — like when Cameron and an assortment of her peers belt Three Non Blondes’ “What’s Up?” as it blares on the kitchen’s radio, or the final scene, wherein Cameron covertly calls Coley — underline compassion. We understand what it feels like to be a teenager still in the process of coming to understand themselves, too, and the film does a good job of portraying the difficulty of going through the motions of self-discovery when every possible development is destabilized.
But the valuing of succinct, in-the-moment storytelling is ultimately more detrimental than it is advantageous. Character development is impaired. We know little about Cameron beside the facts that her parents have died, that she is being raised in a hyper-religious household, and that she likes the Breeders. (Early in the movie, which is set in 1993, Rick confiscates a tape containing Last Splash.) But we have no idea of what that household is actually like on an everyday basis, and we don’t know what her social and academic lives were like back home. What has it been like for her to be in the closet?
Jane and Adam are similarly murky. Although there are crisp, slightly comical flashbacks alluding to their comparatively turbulent upbringings, we do not know much about their interests, or who they would like to become. The characters, and the actors playing them, are easy to invest in, and so this leads to frustration. If more time were vested in chronicling the worlds from which these people separately come, as well as more assiduously exploring their inner worlds, the movie might become more affecting than it is.
But that we care about the ensemble as much as we do is what finally makes The Miseducation of Cameron Post compelling. The performances — particularly the one given by the career-best Moretz — are emotionally resonant enough to additionally patch up the screenplay’s shortcomings. But I cannot stop thinking about the great film buried underneath this good, frequently marvelous one. B