HERE’S ANOTHER coming of age drama; this one with the added trendy frisson of SSA (same-set attraction) to give it “edge”. Set in the 90’s, Chloe Grace Moretz is the eponymous Cameron Post, a quietly rebellious teenager, whose lesbian relationship with a fellow schoolmate is unmasked by her (male) Prom night date when he comes upon them making out. It’s a nice touch that this inversion of (the then) accepted code of heterosexual attraction would occur during the very night meant to underscore American coupling: the bizarre tribal mating ritual of Prom Night.
Cameron is promptly dispatched by her troubled aunt (For some reason that really has no relevant reason, Cameron’s parents are both dead) to God’s Promise. This is a place of Christian fellowship where the aim – of its brother/sister team (John Gallagher Jr and Jennie Ehle) – is to forcefully pray away the gay of its small group of troubled teens. These spiritual leaders are really a stand-in for the mores of the broader society that, based upon the scriptures, has deemed homosexuality a sin (like murder).
What the movie never interrogates is the extent of their honesty or cynicism. What it does make clear, is that sexual choice is an integral part of who we are. We exist as sexual beings. So any attempt to deny this, to change it, is an inevitably doomed enterprise. The teens at God’s Promise (all seen through the prism of their sexual “deviance”) are faced with the stark choice of self-loathing (and in one case, traumatic self-harm) pretense or rebellion. But in the end, no amount of self-righteous bullying or piously mouthed prayers will contain natural desire. We all need the freedom to be who we are (duh!)
The movie certainly offers enough flashes of shouty self-hate drama to give an impression of real people in the throes of identity loss and confusion. But essentially the narrative arc of the movie goes nowhere very slowly. Cameron morphs from gay teen to…gay teen, during which time her expression changes from pouty rebel to… pouty rebel.
Chloe Grace Moretz has masses of on-screen presence. We want to be on her side. But that’s it. (Compare her one note performance with the magnificently moving one by the young Angelina Jolie in Girl Interrupted). Ms Moretz lacks the nuanced ability to take us into her internal drama. The result is a movie that feels curiously flat.
Gay conversion is as laughably as it is frighteningly absurd. But The Miseducation of Cameron Post has nothing new – no new insights, no new ways of seeing – to add to our understanding (and collective liberal rage). It merely confirms what “we” already knew. It’s a movie smugly happy to have a conversation with itself.
(That said, the Miseducation of Cameron Post this is one of those rare movies driven by a strong cadre of outstanding women: director, writer, editor, cinematographer, art director, costumer director etc. A small crack in the Hollywood glass ceiling)
THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST. Dir: Desiree Akhavan (Appropriate Behavior).. With: Chloe Grace Moretz (The Equalizer), Sasha Lane (American Honey), John Gallagher Jr (TV: The Newsroom), Jennifer Ehle (TV: The Looming Tower). Writers (from the novel by Emily Danforth): desiree Akhavan, Cecilia Frugiuele (Appropriate Behavior). Cinematograher: Ashley Connor (First Match). Composer: Julian Wass (Tangerine)