When Cameron Post (Chloe Grace Moretz) is caught in a sexual encounter with another girl, she is sent away to a gay conversion therapy centre. Here she meets Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr) and his sister, Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle), who run the centre, and other teenagers who are supposed to be being "cured" of their sickness. The teens include Cameron's roommate, Erin (Emily Skeggs), and the likes of Jane (Sasha Lane), Adam (Forrest Goodluck), and Mark (Owen Campbell). Very few of them seem to believe what the adults are trying to sell to them, but that doesn't make the whole process any less harmful.
The fact that The Miseducation Of Cameron Post can both make you very angry while also proving to be enjoyable entertainment is testament to the quality work put in by everyone involved, from page (it's base on a novel by Emily M. Danforth) to screen.
Indeed, there are many scenes here that you've seen many times before. Standard coming-of-age stuff, or moments of individuals who feel like outcasts meeting kindred spirits and finding strength in that revelation that they're not as alone as they first thought. But everything is freshened up by the setting, the background to why all of these characters are here, and not just the teenagers but the adults too (it's revealed early on that Reverend Rick was "cured" some time ago).
All of the younger cast members do great work, although it's strange that Moretz, who is often so good, feels like she spends many scenes taking a step back while she remains the lead character. This isn't a major criticism, it's a compliment if anything, but Cameron is more our lens through which we get to view this warped world rather than someone going on their own journey. She may be moved around physically but Cameron very rarely feels anything but disdain for the process that she has been pushed into. The same goes for the characters played by Lane and Goodluck, both are confident in just knowing who they are while trying to do what needs done to placate the adults and get themselves out of there as quickly as possible. More interesting conflict comes from the moments involving Skeggs, who tries to act positively saintly at times, and Campbell, who obviously feels the most pain from how his sexuality has damaged his relationship with an uncaring father. Ehle is very good, and most worryingly self-satisfied at the fact that they are doing the right thing for the teenagers they view as sick, but Gallagher Jr. is given at least one great moment in which he expresses a major moment of self-doubt and shows that the harm being caused, the lives being potentially shattered, all stem from someone who means well but is also being ignorant and selfish. We all know what road is paved with good intentions.
Director Desiree Akhavan, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Cecilia Frugiuele, does an excellent job of showing who is in the right and who is in the wrong without turning anyone into outright heroes or villains. You can easily boo and hiss the adults here, and with good reason, but the script and direction doesn't demonise them. What induces rage and frustration also induces no small amount of sadness, and the inevitable thought that these people work with teenagers because adults would be in more of as position to shut their bullshit down within seconds and push them aside as they headed out the door.
The Miseducation Of Cameron Post is, undoubtedly, a film about abuse, and the way in which it sugarcoats the bitter pill is very impressive indeed, making it more accessible to some who might otherwise have avoided it. Check it out when you can, and I hope you're also moved and angered by it.
You can buy the movie here.
Americans can buy it here.