“No one’s beating us,” our heroine tells an investigator late in The Miseducation of Cameron Post.
But that doesn’t mean she trusts the people in charge of the gay conversion facility where she’s housed.
Teenaged Cameron (Chloë Grace Moretz) was sent here—a remote camp called God’s Promise—after she was discovered fooling around in the backseat of a car with a girl named Coley (Quinn Shephard). It’s here that Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle) and her allegedly converted brother Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr.) begin Cam’s “recovery,” likening same-sex attraction (or SSA as they call it) to drug addiction and cannibalism, and offering such nonsense maxims as, “There’s no such thing as homosexuality. There’s only the same struggle with sin we all face.”
While the subject matter lends itself to a narrative focused on extremes, director Desiree Akhavan fleshes out Emily M. Danforth’s novel with a subtlety that better illustrates the insidiousness of these organizations and even, to some degree, organized religion as a whole.
The film takes place in 1993, but aside from hearing 4 Non Blondes on the radio, it feels like it could just as well be set today—a thought that should frighten any viewer. But Cameron is for the most part unfazed by her situation. She’s unhappy, sure, but the lack of obvious aggression on the part of her so-called caretakers makes it easy enough to skate through their pseudoscience with her mind still intact. She bonds with two other attendees named Jane (Sasha Lane) and Adam (Forrest Goodluck) over their mutual interest in smoking weed. Even though the camp psychologically pits kids against each other, her chances of riding out God’s Promise feel pretty good.
Until, that is, the moment when Cameron starts to wonder if maybe she’s wrong.
Akhavan does a fantastic job here of toying with expectations. Dr. Marsh reminds us of a muted Nurse Ratchet, but Cameron is by no means a McMurphy. It might have been gratifying to see Cam fight back tooth and nail against her oppressors, but her gradual compliance feels not only more true to life but scarier. Akhavan sets up scenes so that any time Cam diverges from the straight and narrow—getting high, stealing a cassette, masturbating—it feels as though Dr. Marsh or Rick will leap out from the shadows like Leatherface to expound on sin and the merits of Christian virtue.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post offers an affecting portrait of both young queer identity and general adolescence, one that will resonate deeply not only with members of the LGBTQ community, but also anyone who has strained under the yoke of religious indoctrination. In the United States, that’s a lot of people.