Cameron Post (Chloe Grace Moretz) is a typical teenage girl in 1993. She has an attractive boyfriend, she goes to school dances in a group, she’s on the track team, and does pretty well in school. The only difference is she also has lesbian sex sessions with her best friend Coly (Quinn Shephard) who she’s totally in love with. When Cameron’s boyfriend catches her and Coly in the act in the back seat of his car during homecoming, he tells everyone and Cameron’s legal guardians send her to a gay conversion therapy center where she’s meant to “pray away the gay”.
At the camp, Cameron struggles to find herself and the truth of her sexuality while being told by former-gay Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr.) and Mr. Marsh (Jennifer Ehle) what her truth/sexuality/sin actually is according to God’s word. Along the way she befriends amputee Jane (Sasha Lane) and Native American two-spirit Adam (Forrest Goodluck), maneuvers the repressed advances of her sports-loving roommate Erin (Emily Skeggs), and copes when tragedy strikes at the camp.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a film I knew little about going in, other than a) it stars Chloe Grace Moretz (who I love) and b) it’s about a gay conversion camp. I didn’t know what to expect in advance. Would this be a hard-hitting drama? A laugh out loud teen comedy? Some mixture of the two? It’s based on the novel by Emily M. Danforth, which I haven’t read so I can’t speak to how faithful screenwriter Cecilia Frugiuele and writer/director Desiree Akhaven (Appropriate Behavior) may have done in their adaptation. If you’ve read the book and seen the movie, and are able to comment on this aspect, please do so in the comment section and let me know!
The first thing that needs to be said about this movie is that the performances are amazing. As always, Chloe Grace Moretz is simply powerful in her role of the conflicted teen. But she’s not the only tour de force here. Despite having smaller roles, Emily Skeggs and Owen Campbell (playing Mark – a typically soft spoken friend who gives several soul-shattering monologues) give break out performances.
Unfortunately the actors playing Moretz’ closest buds – Sasha Lane and Forrest Goodluck – only seem to be in these roles more for diversity sakes than their acting talents. Or maybe they’re here to help make Moretz look even better in comparison? It’s odd to see stronger acting talent in secondary B-story roles than the ones in actual supporting roles.
The overall story involves a Cameron (Moretz ), a lesbian girl second-guessing her sexuality because grown-ups are good at convincing her she’s in the wrong and not actually feeling her feelings, is a strong tale that many people can relate to and should witness. However, it feels as if the writers were tacking on beats in an attempt to stretch the story far enough to make it feature-length. And many of the scenes (in this case, mostly scenes where Moretz is making out with someone) go on for far too long. These things seem to happen a lot in independent cinema where they run out of story and think that by including irrelevant padding in the guise of ‘ordinary stuff’ isn’t the same as story-building. Far from it!
Dear indie filmmakers: look at each scene closely and ask yourselves “do we absolutely NEED to have this happen to progress the A-plot?” If your answer is “no, but I really like this scene”, then realize it’s not serving an actual purpose and should get cut and replaced with something that’s actually relevant.
So I’m as conflicted about The Miseducation of Cameron Post as Cameron Post is conflicted about her own sexual identity. There’s much to like here, including a few powerful performances, some witty dialogue that had me chuckling out loud and a killer soundtrack. But there’s also stuff that left me cold, like sub-par performances, pointless and seemingly random plot points, and the obvious anti-Christian and anti-Psychology messages. It’s a story needs to be told (and one deep in the current Creative Zeitgeist as there was a trailer for a near identical movie before this one started, and more surely to come). But the filmmakers could have told this one a little better, and with less heavy hands.