In The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Chloë Grace Moretz plays the title character, a high school girl who is caught outside the homecoming dance making out with one of her female friends (Quinn Shephard) in a parked car. Cameron’s aunt and caretaker (Kerry Butler) is a good Christian, so this behavior just won’t do. With dismaying haste, Cameron is squired off to God’s Promise, a remote camp facility that employs a mixture of scripture and trite psychological manipulations in a program supposedly guaranteed to eradicate those sinful same sex attractions. The film is set in the early nineteen-nineties. Tragically, it remains brutally pertinent in the here and now.
As directed by Desiree Akhavan, the film’s tone is one of aggrieved understatement. As much as possible, Akhavan steers away from melodrama. These stories of institutionalized teens in crisis almost always include some blood spilled across bathroom tile, and the film doesn’t entirely avoid such trappings. (Adapted from Emily M. Danforth’s novel of the same name, the screenplay is co-credited to Akhavan and Cecilia Frugiuele.) Even so, Akhavan is clearly — and blessedly — less concerned with how the unduly maligned youth rage against their villainous overseers and is instead committed to conveying the contained weariness that comes from merely surviving. There’s greater authenticity to the approach, and with the truth comes a lovely poetry of quiet perseverance. Praise be to those who scramble to freedom, but there’s heroism, too, in the joyful relief of singing along to a mediocre pop song while still mired in the ugliness.
Moretz’s performance aligns perfectly with the tone of the film. The common route in playing a teen with terse dialogue is sullenness or sarcasm, signaling the roiling feelings contained in the words unsaid. Moretz instead fills Cameron with a light confusion and a protective reluctance. She isn’t rebelling against the questions asked of her. She doesn’t get why all this probing of supposed inner conflicts has to go on. Why can’t she simply be? She finds allies in fellow “disciples” Jane and Adam (Sasha Lane and Forrest Goodluck, respectively, both marvelous), but the trio doesn’t study their misery. They bond and joke and trade thoughts, just like any kids free of the agenda of a surrounding meaningful fiction. The purposeful grounding of The Miseducation of Cameron Post lends it a tremendous power. It’s a subtle but unmistakable reminder of the ongoing reality of this persecution of those whose love is still maligned by enough bigots that overt assertions of pride are necessary. The cruelty isn’t being perpetrated on characters, but rather against people.