In 1993 after teenage Cameron is caught in the backseat of a car with the prom queen, she is sent away to a treatment centre in a remote area called God's Promise. While she is being subjected to questionable gay conversion therapies, she bonds with some fellow residents as they pretend to go along with the process while waiting to be released.
Films work best when they place their main focus and priority on the people, not within the place. This is a concept that I find many films to ignore as even though exploring varied institutions and agencies can be informant to any watcher, buildings are mere buildings if they don’t have people within to define them. The director of the 2018 film ‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post’, Desiree Akhavan, clearly displays to the audience that she is fully aware of this concept when creating a story about a queer girls’ journey into the world of Christian gay conversion therapy.
Based on the book with the same name, Cameron Post (Chloë Grace Moretz) is caught with her secret girlfriend Coley on homecoming night by her boyfriend. Due to the Christian ideals that Cameron’s parents have, she is sent off to a Christian camp called Gods Promise to have her sin of ‘same sex’ fixed. The film doesn’t linger on the moments leading up to Cameron’s send-off to explore how the family dynamic has influenced the containment of her sexuality as it is aware that this is a story about Cameron. The main body of the film is within the camp, often referred to as a gay ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s nest’ in several reviews of the film, she finds solace within the camp with sinners alike Jane (Sasha Lane) and Adam (Forrest Goodluck) as they go against the portrayed antagonist of the film Dr. Marsh (Jennifer Ehle) who runs the camp.
The film has an extremely warm colour pallet with the primary colour being a very light orange. A colour utilised to evoke feelings of consolation and contentment as seen with the 2001 film Amélie. This was an instance where I think the overall composition and mis-en-scene of the film works extremely well. The topic of conversion therapy is rooted off the basis of causing trauma to members of our community. An institution designed to replace individualism with assimilation. Placing this camp within such a beautiful lens combined with the delicate cinematography contradicts this purposefully dark atmosphere. Perpetuating the main theme of the film about embracing one’s identity no matter what circumstances you find yourself in. Although it sounds like a simple ‘Just Be Yourself’ poster that hangs in school corridors to make LGBTQ +teens feel ‘relieved’, the film makes itself more finespun and accessible is the lack of confirmation of our protagonists’ sexuality.
A key quote that summaries the principal strength of the film is “I don’t see myself as a homosexual, I don’t see myself as anything”. A lack of acknowledgeable identity conveyed through Cameron allows this film to not only be understablae by queer audiences but by any audience. It additionally offers an exploration on one’s humanity on top of their sexuality. Since the director the film is bisexual herself, this may have helped strengthen this feeling of confusion as it is a phase that all LGBTQ+ members go through at one point within their life. A point where we look around and see that all that surround us have a concrete idea on who they are. An insecurity that grows into a perspective of misplacement. A misplacement that grows into our own miseducation.
Cameron’s self-discovery is forced upon her due to the confrontational environment of the camp. Her friends playing key roles on moving that self-discovery into self-acceptance. Along with the other charming side characters within the camp riddled with their own supposed ‘sins’, the balance between the heart-warming and the heart-breaking works just enough to not make the film a tonal mess.
Although the script and performances in some areas of the film do feel too stiff to focus on a single concentrated theme, the film forgets to realize that its key strength is a lack of a concrete structure. When the film is finding itself along with the characters, stretching a hand to audiences beyond the screen and seek them to find who they are.
Although comparable the extravagant over-the top predecessor 1999 film ‘But I’m A Cheerleader’ does work in its over absurdist of world of queer vitality, the more subtle and earnest ‘The Miseducation of the Cameron Post’ minds to string a similar chord when exploring identity.