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.