Casting her eye upon the real-life horror story that is gay-conversion therapy, director Desiree Akhavan explores important issues regarding identity, repression and sexuality in her adaptation of Emily M. Danforth‘s coming-of-age novel The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which stars a pitch-perfect Chloë Grace Moritz in the title role.
Sent away to a Christian therapy camp by her conservative aunt after she is outed following an incident at her high-school prom, Cameron is forced to endure the ‘treatments’ which the camp’s organisers inflict upon her, forcing her to question her developing feelings for other women and her gender conformity. It’s truly unsettling to watch, not least because the therapy is at first-glance tame, but later portrayed as scarily effective, with parallels drawn to that of brainwashing and emotional torture more akin to that of somewhere like Guantanamo Bay.
The film has plenty of darker elements lying in wait and maintains a cynical edge throughout, the threat posed by the camp’s sweet-yet-sinister leader (played to cold-blooded perfection by Jennifer Ehle) ever present in even the lightest of moments. But Akhavan builds to these grim scenes through moments of humour, lightheartedness and an air of rebellion, no better encapsulated here then via the blossoming friendship between Cameron and her fellow inmates, Jane and Adam (Sasha Lane and Forrest Goodluck). The lighter tone does plenty to elicit our love and sympathy for the characters, and elevates the film’s more shocking moments exponentially.
Make no mistake, these moments are shocking. The film holds back on being gratuitous, with the darker moments and revelations all played in service of the story and emotion, as opposed to simply existing for the sake of shock factor. Every character, major and minor, is afforded depth and layers, from Emily Skeggs’ nerdish comic relief character Erin to John Gallagher Jr‘s infuriatingly charismatic Reverend Rick. This aspect, coupled with the aforementioned humour, lends the film’s final act greater power then it would have had had it been played completely straight and mawkish.
It’ll have you screaming internally with frustration at the injustice and double-standards perpetrated by the film’s antagonists, but make no mistake, The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a must-watch drama to lift the spirits and elicit a few tears, thanks to its positive message of identity and self-worth in the face of adversity.