Adolescent years are a challenge for the best of us. Questions about self-identity, our place in the world, whom to love and how to express that love swirl around as hormones surge and ebb. Developing answers to these questions is part of the task of being a teen. Imagine doing that in an environment of restriction and oppressive faith, where who you are is never as important as who someone else thinks you should be. Desiree Akhavan’s new film captures this situation with requisite gravity and grace.
After being caught in a clinch with a same-sex friend, Cameron (Chloë Grace Moretz) is sent to God’s Promise School. There she undergoes a gay conversion regime led by Dr Marsh (Jennifer Ehle). Prayer, group therapy sessions and Bless-ercise aerobics (!) are used with horrific whispered earnestness. Fortunately, kindred spirits are to be found: Sasha Lane’s Jane Fonda (yes, you read that right) and Adam (Forrest Goodluck) provide some solace. But, is endurance the only answer?
Based on Emily M. Danforth’s novel of the same name, Akhavan has crafted a film with obvious similarities to what has gone before. This film, essentially One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest teamed with a John Hughes coming-of-age story in a 90s setting, does not do much that is new plot wise. But the abhorrent gender confusion program raises all kinds of questions worth addressing and the wonderful cast does so with a kind of restrained awkwardness entirely fitting for the subject matter. Grace Moretz is one of those actors who seems to have made a lot of films given her young age. She has such a self-possessed presence that her low-key incredulity at the situations unfolding around her travel to the core of the viewer. The script does a good job of making its stance clear, whilst also representing the nuanced confusion of the young subjects.
The basis of Christian faith that underpins the ‘therapy’ is very much on the screen, painful as it is. In a group session, one character uses Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” text from 2 Corinthians 12:7 in a way that would break the sturdiest of hearts. The final shot, a Graduate-esque study of teens facing the future is exquisite. All in all, The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a powerful, well-judged reminder that our authentic selves must be nurtured and never suppressed. Always a good lesson to learn.