Movies about gay conversion therapy (the pseudo-scientific and/or spiritual theory that homosexuality can be cured/prayed away) have surprisingly been very rare.
Besides 1999’s cult classic, campy romantic-comedy where the comical aspect surpasses any dramatic tension, But I’m a Cheerleader (directed by Jamie Babbit) and Save Me (Robert Cary’s more serious story of a drug-addicted gay man finding solace (and love) in a soft religious conversion camp, released in 2007), no other movies have been produced (or at least none came out of the obscurity) about this still legal practice that, no matter one’s views on the matter, could offer intelligent, gripping and impactful stories.
This year however, probably because of the current political climate in the USA and the world at large, two movies about this very subject are getting released: The Miseducation of Cameron Post and Boy Erased.
While the latter is only coming out later this year but already benefits from some (very early) Oscar buzz thanks to its cast, The Miseducation of Cameron Post has already been screened at various festivals (even winning this year’s Sundance Grand Jury Prize) but unfortunately hasn’t made itself as popular as its counterpart yet.
Based on the novel of the same name by Emily M. Danforth, The Miseducation of Cameron Post follows Cameron, Chloë Grace Moretz (“Brain On Fire“, “The 5th Wave“), a 15 years old girl in Montana, 1993, who gets sent by her aunt to a religious gay conversion camp after being caught having sex with her secret girlfriend.
There, she meets a group of gay teenagers, some willing to accept the therapy, like her roommate Erin, Emily Skeggs (“When We Rise (TV”, “The Ants (Short)”), or the devoted Mark, Owen Campbell (“The Americans (TV)”, “Alpha House (TV)”), and others begrudgingly waiting for this ordeal to be over, Sasha Lane’s (“American Honey”) Jane and Forrest Goodluck’s (“The Revenant“, “Ink (Short)”) Adam.
Supervised by the camp leader Lydia Marsh, Jennifer Ehle (“Spooks: The Greater Good”, “RoboCop”), and ex-gay Reverend Rick, John Gallagher Jr. (“The Belko Experiment“, “The Newsroom (TV)”), Cameron tries to find her footing in this new environment.
Just like her, the viewer is thrown into the camp pretty quickly, with only a short glimpse of Cameron’s life before it.
We discover, alongside her, the new characters she encounters, we also learn about how the conversion therapy works: each member of the camp (called disciples) have to look into their past to find the root of the problem (too much sports for girls, a too close relationship with their mother for boys, etc) and then work on it through one-on-one or group therapy sessions.
Director Desiree Akhavan (whose previous and very first feature film, Appropriate Behavior, was an autobiographical look into her coming-out as a bisexual woman) talked in depth with various survivors of gay conversion therapy to make the movie look as authentic as possible.
It not only translates through the practices and beliefs of the camp (all based on real-life experiences) but also through Akhavan’s mise-en-scène and the pacing of the movie.
The film is shot very conventionally, avoiding anything that could take us away from its message, with a lot of close-ups and long takes to show how the characters feel and how trapped they are.
Similarly, instead of going for a powerful climax or a predictable narrative, the film oscillates constantly between Cameron rejecting and accepting the therapy until an anticlimactic (yet still impactful) ending. It is realistic and puts us more easily into her shoes.
Akhavan’s biggest achievement and the movie’s best quality is its tone. There is a perfect balance between the serious and sometimes horror of the situation and the humor and light-heartedness that comes hand in hand with a movie about teenagers living together and facing awkward situations.
This makes The Miseducation of Cameron Post, despite its very serious premise, a really fun watch, especially because at its core the movie is a coming-of-age film.
Regardless of the circumstances in which the characters find themselves in, we can all relate to the teenage experience of having to break free from societal expectations or parental pressure and find out who we truly are and what we believe in.
And, unlike the two previous movies mentioned above about gay conversion therapy, this one doesn’t end in any romance but rather makes the friendship and sense of community that blossoms inside the camp its emotional core.
Every character and interaction that links them together is fascinating and touching in their own way. The movie never judges or mocks the ones who truly believe in the mission of the camp, and although the movie is clearly more on the side of the characters who reject it, the ones who don’t are shown a lot of empathy, whether they’re disciples who want to be heterosexuals or adults supervising the camp.
John Gallagher Jr.’s Rick (a teacher at the camp who himself is a gay man turned heterosexual through therapy) is an especially moving character and one that viewers will definitely feel ambivalent towards but that John Gallagher Jr. portrays with a lot of nuance and care.
The shining stars of the movie are however Chloë Grace Moretz who gives the best performance of her career so far, and Sasha Lane who proves once again after her film debut in American Honey that she has incredible talent.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post is very different from its two predecessors in the (very small) genre of gay conversion therapy movies but it achieves something great: making a movie that sheds light on a troubling subject without turning into an exploitative drama, as well as being a fun, clever and relatable coming-of-age film.
It is probably not the summer flick we’re looking for at this time of the year, but it is definitely worth the watch anyway.