December 15, 2018

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Growing beyond the absurd

Quackery of gay conversion therapy is no laughing matter in coming-of-age drama

The setting of a gay conversion therapy centre for teens could be used for any number of cinematic purposes across the spectrum, from sex comedy to wrenching melodrama to broad satire.

Director Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post, adapted from the novel by Emily M. Danforth, opts for something disarmingly simple, yet obvious: a coming-of-age story. It allows components of the other genres to get play here and there, but it’s a film content to keep its head and heart in its depiction of the tragic absurdity of gay conversion.

The year is 1993. Cameron (Chloë Grace Moretz) is a teen girl whose junior prom registers on the disaster scale just short of Carrie White (a character Moretz has also played).

In the back seat of her date’s car, Cameron acts on the attraction she shares with her prom queen best friend Coley (Quinn Shephard) and gets caught in the act. Cameron’s Christian guardian opts to send the girl to a pray-the-gay-away camp rendered all the more insidious by the fact that its chief — Dr. Lydia Marsh (a frosty Jennifer Ehle) — wraps homophobia in the vestments of psychotherapy.

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The setting of a gay conversion therapy centre for teens could be used for any number of cinematic purposes across the spectrum, from sex comedy to wrenching melodrama to broad satire.

MOVIE REVIEW

The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Starring Chloë Grace Moretz, Quinn Shephard and Jennifer Ehle
● Towne
● 14A
● 92 minutes
★★★1/2 stars out of five

The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Starring Chloë Grace Moretz, Quinn Shephard and Jennifer Ehle
● Towne
● 14A
● 92 minutes
★★★1/2 stars out of five

OTHER VOICES

Moretz’s wry smile and weary eyes convey volumes of emotional turmoil. She is the soulful, courageous heart of a film that exalts the strength of human dignity.

— J.R. Kinnard, Seattle Times

The Miseducation of Cameron Post may not hit as hard as it should. But it at least suggests that the only real losers in life are those who presume to read God’s mind.

— Stephanie Zacharek, Time

What a shame that this well-meaning and timely look at the absurdity of gay conversion camps — it won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance this year — lacks the teeth to make its points stick.

— Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

It’s hard to think of a more highly-charged topic than the brainwashing of vulnerable adolescents in the name of God, so it’s certainly to Akhavan’s credit that she uses such a determinedly understated style.

— Elizabeth Weitzman, TheWrap

Generously peppered with biting humor and warmed by a generous spirit that extends understanding, if not forgiveness, even to the religious zealot characters.

— Leslie Felperin, Hollywood Reporter

Director Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post, adapted from the novel by Emily M. Danforth, opts for something disarmingly simple, yet obvious: a coming-of-age story. It allows components of the other genres to get play here and there, but it’s a film content to keep its head and heart in its depiction of the tragic absurdity of gay conversion.

The year is 1993. Cameron (Chloë Grace Moretz) is a teen girl whose junior prom registers on the disaster scale just short of Carrie White (a character Moretz has also played).

In the back seat of her date’s car, Cameron acts on the attraction she shares with her prom queen best friend Coley (Quinn Shephard) and gets caught in the act. Cameron’s Christian guardian opts to send the girl to a pray-the-gay-away camp rendered all the more insidious by the fact that its chief — Dr. Lydia Marsh (a frosty Jennifer Ehle) — wraps homophobia in the vestments of psychotherapy.

The more benign front of the operation is Lydia’s brother Rev. Rick (John Gallagher Jr.), who considers his own homosexual repression a success story.

It’s an idyllic place, looking like a combination of school and summer camp. The brutality is meted in emotional ways with the premise that homosexuality is a sin to be stamped out by God’s hobnailed grace.

From left, Adam (Forrest Goodluck), Cameron (Chloë Grace Moretz) and Jane (Sasha Lane) in a scene from The Miseducation of Cameron Post. (Film Rise photos)

From left, Adam (Forrest Goodluck), Cameron (Chloë Grace Moretz) and Jane (Sasha Lane) in a scene from The Miseducation of Cameron Post. (Film Rise photos)

The residents run the gamut as to how much they accept the indoctrination, from Cameron’s fussy roommate Erin (a touching Emily Skaggs) to the bristling former drug addict Dane (Christopher Dylan White). It is Cameron’s good luck that she happens to gravitate to two wised-up kids: Jane (Sasha Lane) and Adam Red Eagle (Forrest Goodluck), a pair blessed with a spirit of self-acceptance.

No character is flat-out villainized. And Akhavan admirably avoids getting laughs at any one character’s expense. (The film’s most comic moment involves the running thread of Cameron’s erotic lesbian dreams; She tries on heterosexual fantasy at one point and it just doesn’t fit.)

The title role is more challenging that it appears because Cameron is in many ways an unformed entity. She is at a stage where she is obliged to choose the influence that will ultimately define her adult self.

Moretz gets that and moves her character slowly and confidently from blank slate to self-knowledge, even as her character moves from orphanhood toward the family she must make for herself.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

The brutality at the camp is meted in emotional ways with the premise that homosexuality is a sin to be stamped out by God's hobnailed grace.

The brutality at the camp is meted in emotional ways with the premise that homosexuality is a sin to be stamped out by God's hobnailed grace.

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

Read full biography

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