LGBTQ cinema continues its rise with upcoming lesbian movie based on the best-selling novel, The Miseducation of Cameron Post. The feel-good film focuses of queer coming of age, but also shines a light on a dark, serious issue: gay conversion therapy. If you don’t have weekend plans, now you do. This is a lesbian movie you don’t want to miss.
An adaptation of Emily M. Danforth’s beloved young adult novel, the film centers the titular lesbian teen’s experience at a remote camp called God’s Promise in 1993. The second directorial feature from Desiree Akhavan (who also co-wrote the screenplay with Cecilia Frugiuele) is not just lighthearted and brilliantly made, but its release also feels more timely now than ever, especially as the fight to ban conversion therapy in America is growing.
Chloë Grace Moretz plays Cameron, who’s mutually attracted to her bible study friend Coley (Quinn Shephard) — unbeknownst to everyone around them. Whether they’re watching Desert Hearts or finding alone time to have sex, Cameron is completely uninhibited around Coley. In their brief moments together (mostly displayed through flashbacks), Miseducation embodies how any same-sex attracted person would feel when able to act on their true desires, an exemplification of the out bisexual director’s authenticity. Those warm feelings come to a halt when the girls are caught together in the back of a car, causing Cameron’s Aunt Ruth to send her away. Little dialogue is expressed leading up to this, which makes the events more intense. Immediately after walking into God’s Promise, the look on Cameron’s face is a blend of bewilderment and loneliness, communicating exactly what all LGBTQ individuals would feel if in her shoes.
Run by Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle) and her brother Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr.), the center introduces its “disciples” to their various (and ridiculous, as the film emphasizes) methods of de-gaying. Through a graphic evaluation, the kids are urged to find their unique “tip of the iceberg,” the root cause of their attraction. Most of the group has given into their tactics, as Cameron notices the more she interacts with them. Being a teenager is confusing enough, but the only thing she doesn’t face confusion towards is her lesbian identity. In turn, Cameron’s certainty makes her unwilling to comply, merely replying “I don’t know” to many of the asinine questions Dr. Marsh throws her way. Going for brisk jogs through a nearby field is her only means of escaping the brainwashing at God’s Promise.
Cameron later befriends two other residents there, hippie Jane Fonda (Sasha Lane) and Lakota two-spirit Adam Red Eagle (Forrest Goodluck), creating their own chosen family. The trio’s quiet opposition of the camp fortifies their bond, giving each other moments of levity in a place that thrives on hatred. In one scene, them and a few others break away from their routine to sing along to 4 Non Blondes’ chart-topper “What’s Up.” The lyrics roared by Linda Perry, especially her repeated “What’s going on?”, are almost chilling in how accurately they reflect the film’s message. When it comes to conversion therapy, what is going on? Why does such a practice exist? The ideas it encourages not only need questioning, but also need to be fought against and dismantled.
Aside from uncovering the facility’s emotional manipulation, Miseducation establishes that gayness cannot be erased, no matter how hard anyone tries to do so. Cameron’s roommate Erin (Emily Skeggs), who actually listens to the camp’s crooked teachings and never forgets to do her Blessercize, can’t even bring herself to reject the need to act on her truth. The titular character is once asked by a fellow disciple, “When did same-sex attraction get in the way of your goals?” She can’t give a real answer, because it’s impossible. Rick and Dr. Marsh may attempt to convince the teens that homosexuality is a weakness in need of curing, but truly, it’s a force of strength and courage.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post indicates that LGBTQ narratives are becoming more dynamic, reminding us that our community will always be worth fighting for. Akhavan returns with her distinct wit and grace when it comes to tackling weighty experiences (demonstrated in her wonderful 2014 debut Appropriate Behavior), which makes anything she creates easy to fall in love with. Moretz’s beautiful lead performance brings an inspiring self-assurance that’s often rare for a character of her age. Ruminating on the film’s themes — and the eventual, calm-but-celebratory resolution — only makes them become more compelling and affecting overall, even if it’s contained in a mere 90 minute run time. The drama has the ability to encourage hope in a world that often feels isolating, especially for those who see glimmers of themselves within its characters. While we continue to empower and defend the validity of LGBTQ lives, I hope Cameron Post will be a name that her audience never forgets.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post arrives in NYC theaters on August 3, and will receive a wider release in additional cities on August 10.