When Desiree Akhavan’s teen gay drama “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, it took a few festival attendees by surprise.
This sensitively rendered drama, adapted from Emily M. Danforth’s groundbreaking novel about a teen lesbian sent off to a “pray away the gay” Christian camp, didn’t have the grab-you-by-the-lapels forcefulness of some of the Sundance entries. Its charms were quieter, but no less emotionally intense.
Chloë Grace Moretz, a child star all grown up into a confident and mature actor, plays Cameron Post, who is sent to God’s Promise in 1993 Montana after she’s caught making out with the prom queen, Coley (Quinn Shepherd).
Cameron is welcomed to the camp by Reverend Rick (John R. Gallagher), a pastor who says he is an “ex-gay,” having battled same-sex attraction (he never dares call it homosexuality) and, he claims, defeated it. Leading the therapy sessions is Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle), who believes homosexuality — er, same-sex attraction — is a sin, and that owning up to that is the only road to being “cured.”
In scenes that veer from wry comedy to deeply felt drama, Cameron befriends two other campers — Jane (Sasha Lane), who lived in a commune, and Adam (Forrest Goodluck), a Native American boy with a politically ambitious father — who teach her the tricks of faking answers to Reverend Rick and Dr. Marsh. They also have a spot in the forest where Jane grows pot.
Akhavan and co-screenwriter Cecilia Frugiuele (who produced Akhavan’s semi-biographical debut feature, “Appropriate Behavior”) run Cameron through a series of vignettes, both funny and harrowing. The scenes build steadily, as Cameron goes from questioning her own sexuality to questioning the right of others — especially Rick and Dr. Marsh — of telling her what “normal” is.
Moretz, who has been growing up in front of us in “Kick Ass” and “The Equalizer” among others, turns “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” into her valedictory. She takes this fragile, confused girl and transforms her into a determined young woman, fighting for her self-identity. It’s a performance as graceful and surprising as the film that carries it.
‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post’
Opened August 3 in select cities; opens Friday, August 17, at the Broadway Centre Cinemas (Salt Lake City). Not rated, but probably R for sexual content and language. Running time: 91 minutes.