SIFF 2018: The Miseducation of Cameron Post

A flashback one third of the way through the film of the lead actress laying on her back looking unamused while her boyfriend in a letter jacket makes out with her verifies that Desiree Akhavan has both seen and appreciates 1999’s But I’m a Cheerleader.  While her new film The Miseducation of Cameron Post pays homage to the cult classic, in this and other moments, it also recognizes the gravity of the topic and treats the atrocity of conversation therapy with a more nuanced film.

Set in 1993, The Miseducation of Cameron Post tells the story of teenager Cameron Post (portrayed by Chloë Grace Moretz) who is caught making love to her best friend (also a woman) during their homecoming dance.  Outed, her religious aunt, whom she’s lived with since her parents died, sends her to a conversion camp.  There under the guidance of siblings Reverend Rick and Dr. Lydia Marsh, the assumption is that she will stay until she no longer has any same sex attraction.

While at the camp she meets a variety teenagers all there for the same reason, and quickly befriends Jane (played by Sasha Lane) and Adam (Forrest Goodluck) after running across the two of them sneaking away to smoke.  They represent the voice of reason in the camp, resigned to their imprisonment but refusing to accept that there is anything wrong with them or that they can change.  The other residents in the camp don’t necessarily share their healthy outlook.  Many of them, notably including Cameron’s roommate Erin (Emily Skeggs), genuinely share the religious outlook of the camp, and want to be “cured”.

The film understands that many characters in this predicament will be crushed with self-hatred over what they perceive to be a personal fault or “sin”. It blatantly disagrees with this sentiment, but doesn’t allow the confused to be villainized.  Akhavan cares as much for her characters who feel they need to change as she does for the questioning leads.  This reality is where Akhavan distances herself from and improves upon the camp of But I’m a Cheerleader.  Conversion therapy is real, deplorable, and ruins lives, something which The Miseducation of Cameron Post doesn’t shy away from.

While Chloë Grace Moretz is great in the titular role, Sasha Lane’s return to film after her 2016 debut in American Honey stole the show.  Lane has a presence to her that’s captivating.  She encapsulates the type of hope that can only come from existing in a terrible situation much like she did in American Honey.  Even given a gimmick of having a fake leg, Lane’s character exists as a person first, a feat most actors her age would be unable to overcome.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post was the Grand Jury Prize winner of Sundance for 2018, and justifiably so.  Escaping the quirky, twee, indie moniker that so frequently plagues the Sundance output, it resonates as a film focusing on a terrible reality.  It does all this without losing its characters in melodrama thanks to strong direction, writing, and acting.

SIFF 2018: Disobedience

Coming off of his Oscar Win for best foreign picture with A Fantastic Woman, Sebastián Lelio returns to the topic of adult queerness.  With Disobedience Lelio focuses on two women whose sexual attraction creates conflict in the Jewish Orthodox community in which they reside.  Rachel Weisz plays Ronit Krushka, the disowned daughter of the head Rabbi of an Orthodox community.  Ronit returns to the community for the first time after decades of exile upon hearing of her father’s passing at which she is reunited with her now married childhood friends Dovid (Alessandro Nivola) and Esti (Rachel McAdams).  The reunion with Esti proves especially impactful as they remember and rekindle their childhood infatuation that was the cause of Ronit’s expulsion.

Much like A Fantastic Woman before it, Disobedience respects its characters and their queerness.  The renewing of attraction between the two women comes naturally.  Their relationship isn’t played as a moment of self-realization; they are two adult women who know to whom they are attracted.  Even Esti is nonchalant about the reality of her sexuality despite feigning heterosexuality for decades.  A lesser director (and screenplay) would play Esti’s return to homosexuality as revelation.  Lelio understands that the story and drama come from the women themselves, and that their sexuality is only a part of them.  Esti does undergo a significant personal change by the end of the film, but sexuality is the catalyst, not the entirety.

The three leads in the film are all amazing in their roles, but Weisz is the clear standout.  She captures the discomfort of returning to a home that has passed her by, walking on eggshells around people she was told to respect as a child.  The longer her character stays, the more confidant she becomes in her decision, and Weisz reflects this with a progressively blasé demeanor to those she bent backwards to respect upon first returning.  By the end she attends a ceremony honoring her late father which she was not invited to, not to make a scene, but to do so for herself.  No contrived theatrics, just an understanding of her character’s need.

One trepidation preventing a blanket recommendation of Disobedience unfortunately comes in what it markets as one of its selling points.  The sex scene between the two women veers into the ridiculous at times resulting in more cringing than titillation.  Some decisions in the scene seem beyond any scope of reality, especially for two people having their first encounter in decades without significant discussion beforehand.  While not disruptive enough to sabotage the film, that scene does destroy the reality of the film, if only for a moment.