In one of the most powerful scenes in Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post, a supposedly ‘reformed gay man’ breaks down before the protagonist when he is quizzed about a mishap that occurred to a homosexual teenager. A close advocate of the idea that same-sex attraction is a “sin” as opposed to being a Christian, Rick (John Gallagher Jr) had zero clues on how to articulate his thoughts, at that moment. But this film not about Rick. It is about the attractive and intuitive Cameron Post (Chloë Grace Moretz) who has been lodged in the rehabilitation facility run by him and his stern sister Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle). The infirmity that the young Cameron is plagued with is that of homosexuality.
In what probably is a tamer and less absurd version of the asylum that we saw in films like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Lobster, the facility/asylum is where Cameron meets an assortment of teenagers. Living on the periphery of hormonal outbursts of all kinds, the otherwise bright youngsters are systematically taught the art of staying in denial. Gender is not something that the world understands, asserts the film. Using a characteristic wry, understated humour, the narrative poses several questions on institutions of conservationism and the society’s appallingly generic perceptions regarding sexual preferences.
Set in Montana, The Miseducation of Cameron Post coins an interesting acronym – SSA – for same-sex attractions. Treated in a clinical fashion, the inmates get to go through a series of activities that are said to relieve them from the epidemic that SSA is. The writers (Desiree Akhavan, Cecilia Frugiuele) seem to have taken great care in etching the characters who are neither children nor well-aware adults. In a particularly moving instance, Adam (Forrest Goodluck) reveals his gender identity. His friends listen to him attentively and there is an earnest attempt to empathize, which is something that his kin is unable to.
The protagonist, for the most part of the film, remains a spectator whose value system is very much in place. In brief dream sequences and flashback montages, we witness Cameron’s fantasies and traumatic experiences from the past. The dream portions, in particular, are interestingly aligned in the film’s screenplay. At one point, we see Cameron – who identifies herself as a lesbian – making out with one of the facility’s male inmates. Immediately after, the film offers a reality check – to Cameron and to us. That way, in seconds, The Miseducation of Cameron Post quashes certain misconceptions that many of us might breed on how gender dynamics work.
The most fascinating character in the enterprise, however, is Dr. Marsh. She is stern and her principles are crystal clear. She might come across as a cruel woman but she isn’t. She could brainwash her ‘erstwhile’ homosexual brother, which triggered her to kick-start a full-fledged conversion service with religion at its fulcrum. Another character who is deeply convinced with Dr. Marsh’s services is Cameron’s roommate, Erin (played with absolute finesse by Emily Skeggs). These are characters that amuse and scare us in equal measures. At certain points, The Miseducation of Cameron Post ceases to be a singular piece on the protagonist’s coming-of-age. We tend to think of the peripheral characters and their respective psyches as well, which is exactly where Desiree Akhavan knocks it out of the park.
On the flip-side, The Miseducation of Cameron Post stagnates periodically in absence of too many things to say. The character arcs, too, do not see many evolutions as its people and their mindsets remain constant throughout. Therefore, the ending, even though liberating, comes across as a little too unassertive in a film that was so successful in building intense tension sans artifice and topsy-turvy twists. For the rest, the compassionate writing and Moretz’s understated performance makes this film one of the year’s most affecting features.
Rating: ★★★ 1/2
Author at Filmy Sasi