Published on September 18th, 2018 | by Noah Dimitrie0
The Miseducation of Cameron Post
It may not be one of the great masterpieces of 2018, but The Miseducation of Cameron Post is well made and thoughtful enough to resound.
I think a great deal of audience members will sit down to watch The Miseducation of Cameron Post, a film depicting a gay conversion camp in the 90s, essentially knowing the ending ahead of time. There’s only really one logical thing for any protagonist in this kind of sobering dramedy to do. She has to become secure with herself, with the person she really is. It’s an inevitability in this kind of indie-Sundance fare. And rest assured, she does; the film doesn’t pull any fast ones on us. However, what makes this flick special, what made it sit in the back of my head for days, is its willingness to explore the ways in which personal perception is malleable — the ways in which many of these teens, despite themselves, actually do “convert.”
Cameron Post (Chloe Grace Moretz) and her two cynical friends, Jane Fonda (yes, that’s her name) and Adam, all risk falling prey to the cultish charms of the camp. The initial scene of Cameron’s arrival, which is predicated on the Prom-night discovery of her affair with her female best friend, depicts the camp for what its not; we hear cheery acoustic Gospel songs and witness fresh-faced, homespun learning. Cameron’s roommate waxes poetic about how her life is, “so amazing,” since she’s gotten over, “feeling like a boy.” The camp has a façade of God-given joy that is rather seductive if one gives themselves to it. And, of course, what other option is there for these teens, who are shipped off to a third party by their parents because they apparently love them so much?
Yet, despite the film’s level-headed respect for its characters’ perceptions, it is undeniably made for a secular, diverse audience, one that will buy a ticket with a particularly negative opinion of the subject matter. The film, of course, does not entirely dodge this point of view; while the film explores the seductive qualities of the camp, many scenes of their meetings and prayers in the camp are also coated with an anxious concern for the kids’ wellbeing. The camera zeroes in on small micro-aggressions executed by its adult leadership, injecting a dramatic irony with signifiers of subtle and insidious psychological abuse. Refusing to let Cameron be referred to as Cam (too masculine sounding), violently pulling Adam’s hair back while lecturing him about how it should stay out of his eyes (not sure why Jesus would care) — these are only a couple ways in which the film reveals the camp’s insidiousness. However, I’d hesitate to describe this as biased filmmaking, given the obviously illogical premise of the camp’s directors. The film can and should be expected to take a stance.
Yet, to balance this, Desiree Akhavan injects such great empathy and understanding into every scene. We not only begin to feel for and relate to both the teen and adult characters, but we also begin to see how these teens so desperately want to embrace “change.” That’s why Cameron works so well as this film’s protagonist; she’s a personality who always finds herself stuck in the middle, defining herself by other people’s values but then clashing those with her own. A libertarian trapped in a world of all-too-convincing make-believe. Moretz fits comfortably into this role, imbuing Cameron with equal parts charm and insecurity. In perhaps the best performance of her career, she graduates to a much-coveted place in both Hollywood’s and now indie film’s good graces.
Meanwhile, Akhavan finds more than just candid drama in this camp; in fact, she mines some much-needed comedy from the teenager’s awkward insecurity. We see Cameron steal a Breeders cassette, only to put it back a second later. Her peers then have an arduous debate over whether it counts as a sin and we as an audience are torn between laughter and sobering mindfulness of their over-anxious brainwashing. All these feelings, these quintessentially teenage moments of angst humorously clash with religious dogma in ways not really seen in movies before. There’s Jesus and the social acceptance that comes with it, or there’s her self — her true self — and an automatic ostracization from everything she has ever known. Baptism by fire is the stakes, the option she toils with throughout the film. A tougher decision than it seems.
Overall, I can’t really say much bad about this film at all. That doesn’t make it a masterpiece, but it does make it concise and an effective use of its meager box of tools. On paper, you might think the only thing going for it is that it’s hard to say specifically negative things about it. But I believe that MOCP is more of a testament to the value of restraint and filmmaking that avoids judgement. Not every teenager in the film finds a light at the end of the tunnel; for some, it even gets darker. But the pure, misunderstood emotion with which Desiree Akhavan coats every shot gives the film life beyond any ham-fisted message. It’s a truly relatable concept that empathetically follows through.