Of the 122 feature films that premiered at Sundance, 37% were directed by women. Desiree Akhavan was one of those women and her film, “The Miseducation of Cameron Post”, went on to win the Sundance Grand Jury Prize in the U.S. Dramatic competition. It’s based on the book by Emily M. Danforth, and all of the positive chatter around it is SO well earned.
“The Miseducation of Cameron Post” takes place in 1993 and tells the story of a young woman named, YOU GUESSED IT, Cameron Post (Chloë Grace Moretz). On the night of the Homecoming Dance, Cameron is caught making out in the back of her boyfriend’s car with her best friend, Coley. This event causes her to be sent off to a gay-conversion therapy camp called “God’s Promise”. Once she arrives, we begin meeting the rest of the “disciples” as they’re called by the staff. It’s a motley crew of teenagers that are all there for slightly different reasons. Whether it be a same-sex attraction or “gender confusion”, they’re all there to pray the gay away.
Cameron starts off the film as a very submissive personality. She rarely speaks her mind, or speaks at all, but has tiny sparks of defiance that come and go. Surprisingly, while she’s attending God’s Promise, she slowly begins to blossom amongst her peers. This is aided by two other disciples named Adam (Forrest Goodluck) and Jane Fonda (Sasha Lane) - who arguably has the coolest name at God's Promise. The three of them form a small, rebellious, group that enjoys hiking into the woods, getting high, and talking smack on the staff. A little over halfway into the movie, we begin to see Cameron's personality shine amongst these friends that she’s made, and it’s easily one of my favorite parts in the movie. They’re all in the kitchen peeling potatoes when the radio, originally playing Christian rock, begins to pick up static. Cameron fiddles with the radio for a while then it begins playing “What’s Up” by 4 Non Blondes. The entire crew starts to sing along while Cameron over-dramatically steps onto the kitchen counter with a potato peeler as her microphone to belt out the chorus - and it’s incredibly difficult not to join in. It really breaks up the tension at God’s Promise and shows how, unlike the staff, her friend's wouldn't change a thing about her.
This story is pushed forward by strong performances - namely from Chloë Grace Moretz and Jennifer Ehle, who plays the camp leader, Dr. Lydia. Unlike her formerly gay brother Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr.), who prefers campfire songs and cheery bible passages to get the disciples' attention, Dr. Lydia has zero sympathies for the kids. Her “therapy” consists of shaming in the name of God, which is executed verbally and through expression. Jennifer Ehle does such an incredible job that just one look from her haunting eyes makes your stomach churn. Cameron, on the other hand, is very quiet through most of the movie. You can see that, under the surface, she bubbles with confusion and uncertainty while away at God’s Promise. It’s a slow boil that begins to overflow when she’s confronted by a man after a horrific accident at the camp. He asks her an array of questions, but the one that stands out is whether she trusts the staff there. She explains that she trusts them to buy their food, but she doesn’t when it comes to handling their emotions. They have a small back-and-forth about physical vs. emotional abuse and the man asks her if she feels like they’re being emotionally abused, to which she responds, “forcing someone to change who they are isn’t emotional abuse?” This line emphasizes the groundwork that this film is built on and the powerful message that Desiree wants to be conveyed.
“The Miseducation of Cameron Post” has its moments of hilarity, but ultimately it’s a young adult film that will stick in your head for its message and the relevance that it has today.