The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Based the last portion of the novel by Emily Danforth, The Miseducation of Cameron Post tells the story of gay teen Cameron (Chloë Grace Moretz) as she’s sent to a Christian conversion centre by her orthodox family in the 90s.
Up and coming director Desiree Akhavan shows stylistic flair in this sensitive portrayal of repression and self-expression.
The dreamy, warmly lit visuals of Cam’s fantasies and memories contrast the starker, colder realists of the God’s Promise camp, run by Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle) and her ‘ex-gay’ brother Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr.). The pair of them are a remarkable duo, displaying a good-cop/bad-cop approach to their mission to ‘help’ the teens fight the ‘sin’ of SSA (same-sex attraction). Their rhetoric is obviously awful to listen to, but in the emotionally deprived and self-hatred encouraging context of the camp, you can easily see how some of the teens are taken in by it. Ehle is simply sinister and easy to hate, while Gallagher’s earnest vulnerability evokes pity more than hatred.
After the likes of Kick-Ass, it’s a welcome change to see Moretz tackle a role that requires more emotional nuance, which she actually handles well. The journey Cam undertakes is a rocky one, and for the most part, Moritz is convincing at carrying it — there are just a few moments where it’s hard to believe.
At the camp with her are a quirky combination of young people all at varying stages in their ‘miseducation’. Cam’s by-the-book, ‘wants to get better’ roommate Erin (Emily Skeggs) is one of the most understatedly powerful characters of the piece, while American Honey’s breakout star Sasha Lane and Native American actor Forrest Goodluck play the cool kids Jane and Adam.
In a somehow both humorous and desperately sad montage of what in their pasts each of the students assign as being the root cause of their SSA, we see Jane growing up in a hippie commune, and Adam revelling in his culture which encourages his two-spirit, gender non-conforming identity. Their cases present Christianity as a colonialist force, imposed upon them by new religious stepfathers, or fathers who are running for office so must clean up their image — a decidedly different perspective from the other white, Christian students whose genuine devotion to the Bible is used as a tool by the school.
Jane has a prosthetic leg — the result of a car accident in her youth — and both this and her and Adam’s races and cultures are included in a way that ensures this LGBT film presents an intersectionally relevant story. Cam’s story is not taken to be the default, despite her being the lead, and it is the collective experiences of the students that make up the power of the film.
There are some incredibly dark moments that certainly play into the age old stereotype of all gay films being full of tragedy, but the film manages to balance humour and sobriety in a way that truly honours the struggles of LGBT youth who do undergo experiences like this. It’s a difficult debate to resolve — the existence of the gay teen rom-com Love, Simon doesn’t invalidate the exploration of the darker side to stories like Cameron Post.
It isn’t all tragedy, but it would do a disservice to the very injustice and oppression the film portrays to brush over the brutality that occurs as a result. Alongside this, though, the irrepressible teen spirit of our core trio — their sarcasm and jokes and hidden weed spots — all are just as valued in this rounded picture of what it’s like growing up as a gay and gender non-conforming kid in a conservative society.
The ultimate message is one of hope and defiance, but there’s no easy good-beats-evil way to end the film — just as there isn’t a simply way to end homophobic prejudice in real life. The film allows space for interpretation in its numerous contemplative silences, and the result is a film that’s both powerful and empowering.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post is released in cinemas on August 31st, distributed by Vertigo Releasing.
Bo Burnham’s not-quite coming-of-age drama is a triumph of the modern age, and an absolute must see.
It’s a film for a demographic usually invisible on screen – not a 16 year old sexual awakening high school film, but a 13 year old middle school film which treats the challenges kids of that age face with the utmost respect.
The technological age we live in undoubtedly has affected kids now who grow up with the internet at their fingertips and social media so closely interwoven into their lives, but this film never seems to take the stance of millennial-hating opinion columnists that state the younger generations are rotting their brains by staring at their phones.
Our protagonist Kayla, played phenomenally by Elsie Fisher, is attached to her phone, sure, but her use of social media is presented in a truthful way, and without judgement. Instagram can be used to connect with people as well as to receive mean DMs from classmates. Youtube can be used to hone makeup skills that girls are expected to have at younger and younger ages, but it is also Kayla’s preferred platform for self expression.
The film is sprinkled with the advice videos that she makes on her channel, helping kids her age with things like “self confidence” and “stepping out of your comfort zone” – things she struggles with herself at school. The gap between who she is and how she presents herself online again is something explored with such tenderness rather than simply bashing social media culture.
On her journey through the last week of 8th grade (that’s year 9 to us), Kayla deals with pool parties, trying to befriend the school’s mean girls, crushing on the cutest boy in class, and hanging out with high schoolers – all while trying her best to avoid conversation with her goofy dad.
Josh Hamilton plays her single father, trying his best to connect with a daughter who’d much rather listen to music through headphones at the dinner table than talk to him, and who flips out over the slightest thing. The film does a great job at displaying both their perspectives with such care and respect that in any given situation you can empathise with both, and can always see the love they have for each other. Hamilton plays her father with such soft eyed love that it’s making me tear up just writing about it.
The theme of growing up is key, and we see Kayla try to grow up a little too fast as she befriends a high schooler Olivia (Emily Robinson) on “high school shadow day,” preferring her company to her peers who she can’t seem to make friends with. The situation which arises from this is stomach-droppingly painful to watch, but again is handled with such care in the film that is does nothing but serve the narrative and Kayla’s journey.
The camera work and sound does an incredible job at conveying the paralysing effects of social anxiety – especially for a 13 year old at a pool party where no one really likes her. It really puts you in her shoes, and the empathy it creates is unparalleled. To so effectively convey the perspective of a 13 year old is no easy task, but at no point does the audience lose track of her emotions and their causes. It’s so easy as adults to look back on middle school and think any problems faced at that age are trifling, but Kayla puts it best as she prays for her his school shadow day to go well, “This is one of the biggest things that has ever happened to me in my life.” – and it is.
This film delivers a message that applies universally, no matter your age – that there’s always an opportunity for a fresh start, no matter what has gone before, and that approaching it with optimism is the best way.
The emotional climax of the film comes not between Kayla and any friends or potential romantic interests – it comes between her and her father, in one of the most tear-jerkingly moving scenes I’ve seen in a long time. I challenge you not to cry as Kayla tearily explains her feelings to her dad, and Hamilton just knocks it out of the park with his response.
His journey, and the journey of their relationship, is one of the best parent/child dynamics on film, and it’s a must see for anyone who ever felt awkward in middle school – so basically it’s a film for everyone.
The structure and the pacing isn’t always perfect, but it seems wrong to nitpick a film that generated such a huge and genuine emotional response, so I won’t. Bo Burnham deserves all the praise he can get for this triumphant directorial debut. Eighth Grade rightfully won the Audience Choice award at Sundance London.
Eighth Grade screened at Sundance London, but does not yet have a UK release date.