THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST, US, 2018. Starring Chloe Grace Moretz, Jennifer Ehle, Sasha Lane, Forrest Goodluck, Kerry Butler, Dalton Harrod, John Gallagher Jr, Christopher Dylan White. Directed by Desiree Akhavan. 91 minutes. Rated M (Mature themes, sex scenes and coarse language)
The title clearly indicates that something is wrong.
Cameron Post is a teenage girl, still at school, living at home with her guardian. She has a girlfriend and they are being prepared for prom night, dresses, make up, photos… The boys come calling. However, Cameron is not an enthusiast about the prom. She is in love with her girlfriend.
This is a film about sexual orientation, same-sex orientation, teenagers facing their orientation, hiding it, experiencing shame. When the girls are caught by the boys, Cameron is sent off to a re-education institution, for re-orientation, for, as is said, being de-gayed, confronting gender confusion. However, this is a Christian-based institution, with quotations from Matthew’s Gospel and, powerfully at the end, St Paul’s comments about his own experience with torment and the thorn that he asked God to be rid of (interpreted here in sexuality terms).
The facility, as it is called, is run by a brother and sister. The brother, Rick, has been re-oriented from being gay. His sister has a doctor’s qualification and runs everything by herself. At one stage, and the audience is possibly thinking this, there is a question as to what qualifications they actually do have and whether they are making things up as they go along. Jennifer Ehle brings the charm from her other roles but turns it into a sweet-smiling but iron-controlling personality. And the question is asked about what accountability the brother and sister have for their initiatives, for the course, for their control.
Chloe Grace Moretz, in her late teens, has had a very successful film career. She is convincing as a girl who is confused, made even more confused by the re-orientation, puzzled by the appeal to God, remedies based on overcoming sin, and stating eventually that she was tired of being disgusted with herself, something that the course re-emphasises.
The treatment of the facility is particularly American, echoing something of a cult, with a kind of Pentecostal enthusiasm, with TV programs which are ultra-zestful in the name of God, and some approaches to aversion therapy.
Cameron is allotted a roommate who is very earnest, says all the right things, tries to do all the right things, but is unaware (as the audience actually is) that she really is not changing in her orientation. There are group meetings and we are introduced to a range of those participating in the course including a chubby young woman who wants to sing but has a low self-image, a rather arrogant young man, a young man whom his father labels as effeminate who is driven to drastic physical action against himself. Cameron bonds with two of the members, Jane (Sasha Lane), a rather tough-minded young woman and Adam, Forest Goodluck, earnest and a good friend.
By these years in the early 21st century, such programs have generally been discredited although they are supported earnestly by those who believe that such re-orientation is possible and, especially by homophobic people who consider that it is essential.
The film has a comparatively brief running time, focuses on female same-sex relationships principally, invites the audience to understand as well as empathise with the young women, also invites the audience to be critical of those running the program, raising the questions and leaving the audience to reflect on possible answers. (A forthcoming film, Boy Erased, raises the issues in terms of male-male orientation.)
Rialto films Released September 6th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.