the miseducation of cameron post
Film, 2018, 4.5 stars
Directed: Desiree Ahkavan
Written: Desiree Ahkavan and Cecilia Frugiuele (from the novel by Emily M. Danforth)
While films that “borrow” a lot for their inspiration are often decried, I can’t do that in this case. Talented Iranian-American filmmaker Desiree Ahkavan (Appropriate Behaviour) wears her filmmaking heart on her sleeve. Every time I saw an influence I felt warmed by it. This film is funny, sincere, wild, and free, and filled with optimism for the future, despite its downright horrific subject matter.
There’s no doubt that The Miseducation of Cameron Post owes a lot to films like The Breakfast Club, Dead Poets Society, and even But I’m a Cheerleader in its themes and outcomes. It has that combination of teenage rebellion and tragic circumstances, coupled with bizarre but semi-realistic scenarios, and friendship versus adversity that The Breakfast Club wallowed in. Also, there is this mentality that the kids were just fine, it was the parents who were monumentally screwed it all up.
Cameron Post (the staggeringly talented Chloë Grace Moretz) is caught making out with her best friend and sent away by her family to gay conversion therapy in Montana. The teenagers being subjected to this torture are all truly gay, but receive distressing evangelical therapies by Dr Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle) and her ex-gay brother Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jnr).
No one has a choice of whether to be there or not, and all the kids are in various stages of heartbreak, rebellion, or brainwashing. Cameron’s outlet during this trauma is her rebellious new friends and fellow inmates Jane (Sasha Lane) and Adam (Forrest Goodluck). Jane hides pot in her prosthetic leg which is truly inspired, and Adam finds solace in heading to the woods and calling on his native American ancestry.
In true coming-of-age tradition, the friends find joy in each other through adversity; they share pot, the wilderness, moments of fellowship in the horror, and even group singalongs (what would the world be without the seminal Four Non Blondes classic “What’s Up?”). They do anything they can to protect themselves and help each other survive the psychobabble, and hopefully come out the other side with their sense of self intact.
Some of our campers fall by the wayside. The scenes where they’re broken down are harrowing enough to fully sober us up. Where But I’m a Cheerleader used farce in the pray-the-gay-away attempts, Cameron Post goes psychological. Cameron is not naïve. She knows exactly who she is and what she wants, but even she has moments of doubt under the Nurse Ratched-like onslaught of Lydia and her evil tactics.
Films set in 1993 should feel like they belong solidly in the past, but this one doesn’t. This film was screened in 2018, squarely in the Donald Trump years, and the school is in Montana, a US state that has permanently blocked trans people from changing their birth certificates to reflect their real gender, and looking to do worse.
As our world suffers under a backlash towards queer people, it can’t help but feel horrifically relevant again. Some parts of the world would rewind us to this point and worse if they could, and films like this fill me both with extreme sadness and soaring hope. Yes, we must see and understand the past to ensure we don’t regress, but most of all, we must force the world to not un-see it.
Desiree Ahkavan is a genius – there’s no doubt about it. The Miseducation of Cameron Post is that rare of all creatures – a queer film that is well directed, well acted, well written, and well made. It deserves all the accolades it has received and more, and should go on the “must watch” list for mature, queer teens to show them the true face of the enemy, and what fighting back looks like.