Living in Sydney in 2018, the concept of conversion therapy is a horrific thought for me. I’ve seen prejudice and homophobia in action, but that’s nothing close to what gay people have been subjected to in an attempt to “fix” them in the name of God. The first of several films on the topic of conversion therapy, ‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post’, reaches Australian soon, offering a glimpse inside this almost unbelievable world.
Cameron (Chloë Grace Moretz, ‘Bad Neighbours 2’, ‘Carrie’, ‘Kick-Ass’ series) is caught in a compromising position with another girl at her prom. Her extremely religious guardians - her aunt and uncle - send her off to a Christian gay conversion centre. Out of her element, she retreats inward, until she connects with two other outsiders, Jane (Sasha Lane, ‘American Honey’) and Adam (Forrest Goodluck, ‘The Revenant’). Together, they attempt to navigate the tumultuous experience of being told everything they feel is evil and wrong.
Based off the novel by Emily Danforth, this is a curious coming-of-age drama that favours sincerity over melodrama. Oscillating between emotionally connected and curiously standoffish, ‘Cameron Post’ really resonates intensely when it works, but slips into conventionality when it doesn’t. Converting an eight-year journey in the book into a 90-minute film was always going to be a challenge, and it does become episodic at times. Still, the height of the empathy comes from moments which reveal Cameron’s vulnerability: when she unexpectedly connects with someone new, opens up to her friends, or battles with her inner turmoil and self-hatred.
Director Desiree Akhavan (‘Appropriate Behavior’) - who also co-wrote and executive produced the film - sees the vulnerability of youth and conversion therapy as a dangerous combination. “How can you brainwash a person into hating themselves? I think that emblematic of the teen experience overall. I think most people are fine before puberty and then you become a teen and you just start to question everything about yourself.”
Moretz dives head-first into this character. There’s genuine heartbreak towards the love she left behind, and true conflict as she begins to doubt herself as the teachings and events start to impact her.
What really makes this film stand out is its cast. Moretz dives head-first into this character, not only making her sexuality believable, but passionate. There’s genuine heartbreak towards the love she left behind, and true conflict as she begins to doubt herself as the teachings and events start to impact her. Lane also lights up the screen as Cameron’s close friend, bringing a bright energy to every scene she’s in. Also impressive are Jennifer Ehle (‘A Quiet Passion’) as Dr Lydia Marsh, the head of the school who truly believes in the work she’s doing, and her brother Reverend Rick, who Lydia “cured” from his homosexuality years ago, but becomes more raw as the story progresses.
Modestly directed by Akhavan, she and DoP Ashley Connor choose to rely on an observational camera to capture the action. Favouring natural lighting, the film varies between dim intimate moments and flooded outdoor scenes. At all times, this film is the story of Cameron Post, and the camera strongly favours intimacy between Moretz and her companions.
Although not a perfect piece of art, ‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post’ is a fascinating glimpse into a rarely-explored corner of darkness. Aptly displaying the emotional battering received by those in the care of the conversion therapy centres, Chloë Grace Moretz’s honest performance escalates this film into a formidable drama with revealing insight into a cruel practice no human should have to endure.