Film Review: The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018)

In the long list of crimes that the church has perpetrated over the years, the mental torture and sexual destruction of LGBT youths is one that mainstream society is only just coming to terms with. The Miseducation of Cameron Post, from bisexual writer/director Desiree Akhavan and based on Emily M. Danforth’s young adult novel, tells the story of gay conversion therapy in blunt detail in a film that is both touching and quietly horrifying.

Cameron Post (Chloë Grace Moretz) is trying to figure herself out in the world of 1993 Montana. We meet her in Sunday school, as a healthy dose of brainwashing about the dangers of teenage sexuality is being preached by the equal parts pastor and cult leader. After getting caught on prom night in the back seat of a car being intimate with her female best friend, her distraught mother decides it’s time to intervene. The solution is a gay conversion centre called ‘God’s Promise’, kind of like summer camp run by Fred Nile. Led by its formidable headmistress (Jennifer Ehle) the “disciples” (they’re not called ‘students’) are subjected to a fundamentalist world of organised self-hatred and sexual repression, the only consolation being the friendships that Cameron manages to make with like-minded camp inmates.

If a film is clearly biased and uses every trick it can think of to try press-gang the audience into its frame of mind, is it still a negative if you completely agree with the message? Akhavan’s second film, after 2014’s Appropriate Behaviour, is so wholeheartedly outraged by its subject matter that it falls into occasionally unsubtle jabs at the target it spends most of the running time throwing haymakers at. 2018 seems to have had more films about religion, Christianity in particular, than any other recent year. This is the counterpoint to all the God-bothering propaganda that we saw around Easter; Cameron Post has anger pouring out of every fibre of its being over the way religion mentally lynched gay people in the recent past.The Miseducation of Cameron Post poster

It’s the kind of religion that the late Christopher Hitchens used to rail against. God’s Promise isn’t far from the world of Winston Smith in 1984; sexual repression used as a form of social control and privacy being a rare commodity. One scene even has one of the more susceptible camp disciples make the point – and this is something that hardline Christians still preach – that contemplation of sin is as bad as the sin itself. ‘Thought Crime’ is the word to use, totalitarianism in its essence, where it’s not enough that power seeks to control your thought, but next level in the method where they know what you’re thinking and can punish you for it. It’s a system as farcical as it is horrifying.

Its answer to Big Brother, towering over the film and undoubtedly the best element in it, is the amazing performance by Jennifer Ehle. Best known as Elizabeth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, she plays the softly spoken but spectacularly hateable camp psychologist perfectly. It’s a role that could have easily slipped into sensationalism, as she’s a character who believes “there is no such thing as homosexuality, there is only a struggle with sin”. And on the rising influence of the Gay Rights movement in the 1990s she laments that “you wouldn’t let drug addicts throw parades for themselves”. Given to someone else she might have come off like the mother from Carrie (the film makes a meta joke about this) but in her capable hands Ehle makes this character work, and the film’s ability to raise tempers is largely due to her.

Moretz, although a proud supporter of LGBT issues, seems a little miscast. She spends a lot of the film kissing almost every other member of the cast and all power to her, but the role brings out many of the annoyances that she has as an actress. A lot of blank expressions, exaggerated lip-biting and that hunched walk she did in the awful Carrie remake. She was excellent in Kick-Ass but since growing up and becoming ever more popular she doesn’t seem to have the raw talent that sustains a long career.

Finally, although the setting is the early 1990s there’s a rather horrifying sense of deja vu. Any LGBT person can confirm that discrimination and distaste for them still exists, but when considering that the Vice President of the United States once gave his full support to gay conversion therapy and the new Prime Minister of Australia is an evangelical God botherer who opposed same sex marriage, the issues that Askhavan brings to light are still very much with us. Cameron Post might not be subtle about its message, but it’s one worth hearing.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is in cinemas from 6th September through Rialto Distribution.

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