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The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a Landmark Film That Doesn’t Quite Hit the Mark

Miseducation of Cameron Post
Photo Credit: Film Rise

The issue of conversion therapy has plagued the LGBTQIA+ community for decades – and remains an issue in 36 states – yet Hollywood has remained almost entirely silent on it. Sure, But I’m a Cheerleader put a campy lens on this horrifying problem, but for Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post to be the first film to explicitly explore the damage that conversion therapy does to queer teens in 2018 feels bittersweet. Because as effective as the film is at moments, it lacks the sense of urgency needed to emerge as a definitive “issue” movie. Instead, it stands out as an above average coming of age drama.

Based on the book of the same name, The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a ’90s-set look at the life of queer teens sent to a gay conversion center in Texas. Our titular heroine, played by Chloë Grace Moretz, is forced to attend the camp to learn “gender appropriate behavior” after she’s caught making out with her girlfriend on prom night. Cameron struggles to survive in the camp, which is run by a brother-sister team (John Gallagher Jr. and Jennifer Ehle), while attempting to understand her sexual orientation in a world where all the adults around her just want to gaslight her.

Perhaps the biggest problem with The Miseducation of Cameron Post is its tonal shifts, which find the film awkwardly buoyed between contemplative drama and quirky teen comedy. While the film is, by no means, light-hearted, it does perhaps spend a bit too much time evoking other teen-focused Sundance indies, with jokes about mandated karaoke nights, the blandness of Christian music, and the general quirkiness of other teens at the camp.

It’s not that these jokes aren’t necessarily funny, but it takes up time that could be focused on the intricacies of the camp. Instead, the film provides viewers with a general overview of how these camps work, but only pulls the trigger on the more traumatic or devastating plot points in the final third. It’s somewhat awkward pacing, which leads to an uncomfortably grim finale after 80 minutes of teen angst and jokes.

Of course, it’s unfair to say the film completely circumvents any real analysis into what makes conversion therapy so insidious. The film’s final third, while far darker than the rest of the picture, is effective. And, the movie’s final shot (spoiled, out of context, in much of the promotional material) is quietly effective and stirring. But the movie isn’t all sadness porn: the flashbacks to Cameron’s burgeoning relationship with a classmate are beautifully depicted and incredibly authentic to what first-love feels like for queer teens. The film also contains the best onscreen sing-along since Almost Famous, as all the teens (and the audience) experience a moment of joy in the midst of their horrible summer.

The film’s performances are also uniformly strong. This is Moretz’s best acting showcase since she first emerged on the scene as a child actor; her performance feels so lived-in, and she tones down any histrionics that would have felt out of place for a character so young. As the film’s antagonist, Ehle somehow manages to relish the chance to play such a detestable villain, while still stopping short of becoming a cartoon. She appears as a genuinely frightening force of evil, unwavering in her beliefs. But it’s John Gallagher Jr. who steals the film. His character, a former camper who now serves as their primary exhibit for “success,” is incredibly tragic. Gallagher, who is no stranger to playing such characters in film and onstage, absolutely guts the audience whenever he walks onscreen.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post has an unfair but undeniable burden on its shoulders. As the first major film to seriously examine conversion therapy, it has an incredibly high bar to live up to. As such, the film’s use of comedy to diffuse tension comes off as unnecessary, and almost frustrating. The audience needs to know that this isn’t just another quirky Sundance breakout, it’s a serious look at a major issue that is quietly still plaguing certain states today. Once the film sheds its comedic tone, it works far better, almost soaring at times. But, as it stands, this is a landmark film that somehow only manages to feel like a solid issues-dramedy.

Overall rating: 6 out of 10

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is playing in select theaters.


Matt Taylor
Matt Taylor
Matt Taylor is the TV editor at The Pop Break, along with being one of the site's awards show experts. When he's not at the nearest movie theater, he can be found bingeing the latest Netflix series, listening to synth pop, or updating his Oscar predictions. A Rutgers grad, he also works in academic publishing. Follow him on Twitter @MattNotMatthew1.

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