Sundance breakthrough The Miseducation of Cameron Post is finally getting its UK release this September. It’s eventual arrival marks the second directorial effort from Queen Mary alumni Desiree Akhavan, and with it a topical LGBTQ coming-of-age film that is well overdue.
Chloe Grace Moretz’s Cameron Post is found in the backseat of a car after her prom with another girl and is sent to God’s Promise, a gay conversion therapy camp. This is run by the reptilian Dr. Lydia March (Jennifer Ehle) and her brother, who is a ‘cured’ gay man, Reverend Nick (John Gallagher, Jr.). The other teenagers there are also at ‘an age where [they’re] especially vulnerable to evil’. God’s Promise functions as both a summer camp for queer kids as they rebel from the adults, and also a total battleground for identity.
The teens are just trying to figure out their own identities, in a push-pull battle against March, a contemporary Nurse Ratched/’Disney villain who won’t let you jerk off’ as she is affectionately described by one of Post’s friends. Post and her two friends, played brilliantly by Sasha Lane and Forrest Goodluck respectively are just trying to figure out who they actually are, cultivating their identities much like the cannabis saplings they grow in the woods.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post feels both timely and fitting. A necessarily reactionary film against the Trump administration. Indeed, watching Moretz dancing and lip-syncing on the kitchen table to 4 Non Blondes ‘What’s Up’, one can’t bear but remember the impromptu gay pride dance party outside Mike Pence’s house. Pence, of course, is the Vice President of the United States and an advocate of electro-shock therapy for ‘curing’ homosexuality. Akhavan, in a Q&A after this screening, talked at length about how this dance scene was filmed on the day of Trump’s election, and this heartfelt defiance against oppression is palpable through the film. But unlike many rushed artist’s responses to the Republican victory of 2016, this film is not on-the-nose with its commentary, it’s well thought out, thematically mature, and a marker in a shifting cultural paradigm alongside films like Call Me By Your Name and Moonlight.
Akhavan and her film crew apparently had these dance parties at the remote summer camp they were shooting at, and lived within, on the last Saturday of every month. There is a sense of camaraderie and kinship between the elements of the film. Indeed, Akhavan posited her directorial role as being more of a curator; someone who assembles a crew to put elements together. The film feels solid from top to bottom without a singular misstep or odd note as a result. The cast and crew working and living together in this remote part of North America for an extended period permeates the film and creates excellent chemistry between all of the young actors..
In the aforementioned Q&A, Akhavan put down many other directors for how they compose and make a sex film, musing on whether they had actually ever had intercourse. The Miseducation of Cameron Post too has sex scenes, but they aren’t the standard overly-stylised Hollywood fare. Akhavan totally avoids fetishistic and gendered gazes of characters during intimate scenes. Rather, they are a much more accurate portrayal of teen romps; full of fumbling, awkwardness, and uncertainty.
Indeed, the film has a grounded aesthetic owing to the consistent use of handheld camera work. Long, unbroken takes are used sporadically throughout the film to lend moments gravitas and feelings of emptiness. This creates an ending climax that feels much like The Graduate brought into the intersectional 21st century; indie electro scores and uncertainty for characters fates seeps in slowly.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a timely film, perhaps more necessary now than it has ever been before. A twisted summer camp and youths trying to figure their own identities out create a touching film that is both sanguine and melancholy. It could very well be the coming-of-age film for a generation.