Let’s go back, let’s go back; let’s go way on, way back when—back when we used to swipe our favorite alternative band’s cassette tapes from the bookstore. Back when denim jackets were in, the country voted a Clinton/Gore ticket, and it was a tough time to be homosexual. Not that it’s easy today, but as The Miseducation of Cameron Post reminds, the days of Matthew Shepard aren’t far behind.
Opening in Montana, circa 1993, The Miseducation of Cameron Post centers on Post (Chloë Grace Moretz), a high schooler discovered in the backseat of a car with her girlfriend on prom night. With little hesitation, Post is shipped off to God’s Promise, a mountain resort rehab center where she can “pray the gay away.”
“Sin is sin,” leader Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle) tells Post, “You wouldn’t allow drug users to throw a parade.” No, Post responds meekly, not entirely convinced but not altogether indignant.
Dr. Marsh is a severe woman in an Old Testament sort of way. Her brother, Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr.), is her shining example, proof positive that conversion therapy works. When Reverend Rick tells his story—about the night he was drinking at a gay bar when two other parishioners strolled in to save him—he takes it at face value that two men at a gay bar on a Friday night were there to save his immortal soul and nothing more. Everyone else listening hears a different story.
Yes, Miseducation spends a fair amount of its running time talking about what these kids think is the basis of their sexual orientation. Upon arrival at God’s Promise, the “disciples” are given the drawing of an iceberg. As they attend classes and meetings, they are to add past experiences to their iceberg, hoping the truth will set them free. From too little parental attention to too much; from crushes on soccer coaches to a fellow choir singer; from early exposure to drugs to non-Christian beliefs to that one time in ninth grade when Erin slapped Helens’ backside while she was at the drinking fountain. Some are honest; others sound like someone trying to talk their way out of a corner.
Thankfully, Miseducation is not made with the same mindset that prevailed in 1993. Instead, writer/director Desiree Akhavan adapts Emily M. Danforth’s novel with a knowing eye. The camera is just as skeptical of God’s Promise, Dr. Marsh, and Reverend Rick’s rationales as is the audience watching. Same for the triangle at the heart of Miseducation, Post and her new friends: Sarah (Sasha Lane) and Adam (Forrest Goodluck), a Lakotan who has been told he had the spirit of a man and a woman locked inside him.
For all three, God’s Promise will form the foundation for their coming-of-age and coming out. They may not have wished it so, but that’s the hand they were dealt. Lucky for them, they know how to play it: let your mind go, let yourself be free. Freedom awaits.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018)
Directed by Desiree Akhavan
Written by Desiree Akhavan, Cecilia Frugiuele
Based on the novel by Emily M. Danforth
Produced by Michael B. Clark, Cecilia Frugiuele, Jonathan Montepare, Alex Turtletaub
Starring: Chloë Grace Moretz, Sasha Lane, Forrest Goodluck, Steven Hauck, Jennifer Ehle, John Gallagher Jr.
FilmRise, Not rated, Running time 91 minutes, Premiered Jan. 22, 2018 at the Sundance Film Festival.