You find yourself thinking: 1993 was only 25 years ago! How was this shit still happening so recently? And then you discover that it’s still going on in 2018. So-called gay-conversion therapy. “Praying the gay away.” It’s appalling.
So when I say that The Miseducation of Cameron Post — winner of the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival — is like a black comedy from a dystopia, I’m also saying that the dystopia is real and we are living in it. It’s more horrifying, then, than even bleakly funny, this tale of 11th-grader Cam Post (Chloë Grace Moretz: Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, The 5th Wave), who is sent to residential school “God’s Promise,” somewhere in rural America in the early 90s, after she is discovered messing around with her best (female) friend in the homecoming-dance parking lot. There, the cheerful denial of Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr.: The Belko Experiment, 10 Cloverfield Lane) — himself an “ex-gay” — and the desperation to put a legitimate spin on the school’s “therapy” by director Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle: Fifty Shades Freed, I Kill Giants) would be amusing if it were invented satire, and if the earnestness and vulnerability of Cam and her fellow students weren’t so achingly authentic and wretched.
Moretz is better than she’s ever been before as she takes Cam slowly through a uniquely adolescent process — though one that the luckier among us never had to cope with — of struggling to reconcile the desire to be good and do right with the just-plain-wrongness of the path the adults around her have put her on. Well-intentioned those adults may be, and they may genuinely love and care for her, but they’ve got some fucked-up ideas about how the world works and what it means to live your best life… and it’s a joy to watch Moretz let bewildered Cameron blossom into poise and dignity as she begins to make up her own mind about the truth of who she is. (Cameron Post would make a sadly appropriate double feature with Apostasy, which is also about how parents and other adults who should know better put the imaginary demands of an imaginary god-friend above the needs of the children right in front of them who look to them for love and care.)
With her second feature, director Desiree Akhavan — who cowrote the script with Cecilia Frugiuele, based on the novel by Emily M. Danforth — finds an abundance of warmth and humanity in the absurdity of Cam’s situation. There was particular genius in casting Sasha Lane and Forrest Goodluck (The Revenant) as the two best friends Cam makes at God’s Promise; both young actors bring much-needed snarky disdain to their characters’ predicament, their easy confidence a wordless counter to the nonsense they are being taught. A nightmare this may be, but the resilience of Cam and her friends, and their support for one another, leaves us ultimately heartened that hate — even dressed up as love — will never win.
first viewed during the 2018 Sundance London film festival