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Sundance London 2018 Review: The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Desiree Akhavan’s follow up to 2015’s Appropriate Behaviour, is another LGBT story, but this time around it’s more of a drama than a comedy-drama. The film is an adaptation of the YA novel by Emily Danforth, and Chloë Grace Moretz shines in an understated, but heartfelt performance as the titular Cameron Post.

It’s early 90s Americn, kids still have cassettes and take polaroids. Equal marriage is a long, long way off. Cameron gets caught hooking up with her female pal Coley (Quinn Shephard) by her boyfriend on Prom night. Orphaned Cameron is promptly packed off to a Christian gay conversion camp by her religious aunt Ruth (Kerry Butler) to “pray the gay away”.

On arrival at God’s Promise Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr) pitches up with a perma grin aa moustache leftover from the previous decade welcomes Cam as one the camp’s ‘disciples’ (an irony not lost on Cam, there was no voluntary following here), while confiscating her Breeders cassette.

We discover Rick is a ‘successful’ convert and now lives as a happy hetero man. At least this is what he’s telling himself. But the camp is run by his sister Dr Lydia Marsh (a fabulously steely Jennifer Ehle). One suspects the pair may have had their own strict upbringing that led them here.

Perhaps the most sinister aspect of God’s Promise is its indefinite length. Even prison sentences have clearly defined terms. At GP, you only get our when the adults are suitably convinced the SSA (Same Sex Attraction) is gone. Cameron’s fear of this is mostly unspoken, but it’s etched in Moretz’s facial expressions, and reluctance to give anything away. She’s not a rebel nor a follower. She’s figuring all of that out, just like most teens.

The God’s Promise authoritarian regime is relentless: mail is monitored, kids are subjected to moral pile-ons during group sessions, and there are nightly torch checks in the dorms.

Desiree Akhavan deftly moves through the supporting characters’ backstories with quick-flash asides and minimal dialogue that avoids heavy exposition. Everyone has their own way of coping at God’s Promise. There’s Cameron’s roommate, excitable, sporty Erin (Emily Skeggs) uber-earnest, manic teacher’s pet Helen (Melanie Ehrlich) and quiet, compliant Mark (Owen Campbell) who delivers one of the film’s most devastating moments.

There are cringe moments of comic relief in Christian-camp activities. Erin’s Blessercise video workouts look like a Napoleon Dynamite outtake, and the trip to see a Christian rock band is one of the film’s finest ensemble scenes.

Akhavan treats all her characters with empathy. Rick’s self-denial is funny and sad at once. He might be the most broken person in the place. And there is a lightness of touch the script.

Cameron finds allies in the self-named, cooly aloof ‘Jane Fonda’ (Sacha Lane) who grows weed in the woods that she hides in her prosthetic leg, and Native American boy Adam (Forrest Goodluck) the only non-WASP kids in the place. Moretz is most alive and vocal with those two. It’s that friendship that will be their saviour in this place. But they’re too smart and too different to make it out of the programme quickly.

Moretz spends much of the film showing introspection and self-doubt, rather than high angst.     Even when she does challenge authority, it’s with pure logic, not angry defiance.

TMOCP is worthwhile, but not ‘worthy’ entry into the new wave of LGTBQ+ teen cinema.

UK Premiere at Sundance: Saturday 2 June & Sunday 3rd June. It will be on general release on August 31st.

Check out our Sundance London coverage

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