Indie Drama Follows Teens Through the “Pray the Gay Away” Movement
The Miseducation of Cameron Post, the new indie feature from writer/director Desiree Akhavan, chronicles the “battle” between organized religion and homosexuality in the early 1990’s. The film is set at a deprogramming camp for teenagers who suffer from SSA (Same Sex Attraction). There are no discussions of transgender issues or questions about how the teens “identify” with regard to gender. These are the dark days of sexual identity when homosexuality was equated with deviance, and young people grappling with the issue were demonized by adults who should’ve known better.
Chloe Grace Moretz plays Cameron, a high school girl who is caught making out with her female best friend after a school dance. Cameron’s guardian follows the guidance of the family pastor and sends Cameron to a camp that offers gay conversion therapy. There she meets other teens in various states of self-loathing who are being “counseled” by a brother-sister team of evangelicals (Jennifer Ehle, John Gallagher, Jr.). Cameron’s sexual identity is “blamed” on everything from her love of sports to her androgynous name. The goal is to make an upstanding heterosexual citizen out of her.
Miseducation offers a talented cast giving compelling performances, but the film never quite lives up to its potential due to its predictable screenplay. The character arcs unfold as you would expect, and the motivations of all involved are a bit simplistic. The flaws in the film and its missed opportunities lie primarily with the adult members of the cast.
The male evangelical is a “former homosexual” who mostly serves as his sister’s lackey. His sexuality is discussed by the teen residents, but he presents himself as their asexual older brother — evidence that the therapy they are undergoing is a success. We are shown no real internal conflict, no hint that he is masquerading as someone he is not. That element of self-denial, of living as someone you are not, would have added another dimension to the film.
The sister of the de-programming team seems to take sadistic glee in tormenting the troubled teens. She brandishes Bible verses like weapons and sermonizes with authority. Not to say that this doesn’t happen all over the country when it comes to the issue of sexual identity, but it’s also the most obvious route to take through the narrative. Wouldn’t it be more interesting to see a kind, compassionate person who sees gay conversion therapy as their misguided mission in life? What if the adult counselors went on their own journey of self-discovery that challenged their pre-conceived notions and judgments of others? In that scenario, there is no one to hate, no black hats and white hats, just a group of confused adults and kids wrestling with an issue.
It can be misguided to review a film and spend the majority of the time discussing what it could have been rather than what it is. However, in this instance, these choices by the screenwriter are the difference between a good film and a great one. Though a fine actor, the casting of John Gallagher, Jr. can at times be counter-productive because he’s a constant reminder of a much better troubled teens film, Destin Daniel Cretton’s Short Term 12 (2013). The Miseducation of Cameron Post never rises to those lofty heights, but its subject matter and stellar young cast still make it a worthwhile trip to the theater.