Emily Danforth released her only book to date in 2012, a coming of age novel inspired by her own coming of age in the American Midwest. Four years later, filmmaker Desiree Akhvan began collaborating with producer Cecilia Fruguiele to create a screen adaptation of the novel. “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” winner of the 2018 Sundance Grand Jury Prize, centers on the experiences of teenager Cameron (Chloë Grace Moretz) when her evangelical aunt sends her to a gay conversion therapy camp.
The story starts off with Cameron’s prom night, which spirals when she is caught making out with another girl in the backseat of a car. Cameron finds herself trapped at God’s Promise, a conversion camp. She attends group therapy sessions with several other gay teens, led by self-proclaimed convert, Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr.), and God’s Promise founder, Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle).
The emotionally abusive relationships between Dr. Marsh and her young clients is contrasted with the relationships that Reverend Rick builds with them. The uncertainty of Gallagher’s character suggests that he may be doubtful about his role in the conversion camp, as well as his personal relationship with religion and homosexuality.
Consistent through the film is Cameron’s own hesitancy to conform to the ideals at God’s Promise. In a fashion similar to Natasha Lyonne in the 1999 conversion drama, “But I’m a Cheerleader,” Cameron finds refuge in getting to know her peers at the camp. She becomes close friends with outsiders Adam (Forrest Goodluck) and Jane (Sasha Lane), and together the trio takes hikes into the Montana wilderness to smoke Jane’s homegrown.
Under Dr. Marsh’s practice, the teens would mark a drawing of an iceberg with the points that they believed to have led to their time at God’s Promise. Cameron’s inability to pinpoint why being gay is wrong leads her to read the icebergs of the other teens at the camp. Through Cameron’s curiosity, we see how the other kids came to arrive at God’s Promise, as well as how they each perceive themselves in the intersection between their religion and queerness.
“Everyone’s there for a different reason and everyone’s reacted [sic] to the situation differently,” said Akhvan about the ensemble teen cast. “The story was like a hybrid of high school coming-of-age, rehabilitation and boarding school film. It was a very rich environment for our characters.”
The teens at the camp share a mutual bitterness towards the parents and caretakers who sent them to God’s Promise. The individual attention paid to the details of each character makes it easy to connect with them, but this also makes it all the more difficult to see them struggle at God’s Promise.
Adam and Jane seem to help Cameron become more comfortable being herself, but the characters show unwavering confidence in their identities throughout the movie. Their characters do not add much to the story; they rather serve as quick comfort for Cameron after tough scenes. At the height of the movie, Cameron, Adam, and Jane plot to escape from the camp. The escape is incredibly simple which begs the question, why had Adam and Jane not tried to escape prior to Cameron’s arrival to God’s Promise? They were basically able to walk right out the door.
This fuzzy final note gives us no inclination to whether the teens have a destination, nor if they have anything planned past their anticlimactic exit. The movie’s flat storyline is somewhat redeemed by the interesting lens of the teen characters and the dynamic cast. “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” manages to put a different spin on the outsider trope commonly used in coming of age dramas. “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” is currently screening at The Parkway in Baltimore.