The kids aren't alright in this haunting look at the dangers of conversion therapy
Love is love is love...except when it comes to God's love, or so we're mistakenly told.Few things are as intoxicating as the feelings of young love, and most people allow and embrace for this time in a person's life. However, it has long been conflated as to whether or not there is a problem when a person starts having these feelings for someone of the same sex. In Desiree Akhavan's (Appropriate Behavior) latest film, she takes on an adaptation of the best-selling novel by Emily M. Danfroth to explore this issue more closely through a portrayal of teens in a religious conversion camp.
Courtesy of the Tribeca Film Festival
Cameron Post (Chloë Grace Moretz, known for Carrie and Kick-Ass) is caught on prom night having sex with her girlfriend in the back of her boyfriend's car, which leads her aunt to send her off to God's Promise, a remote camp where teenagers just like her and working to overcome their same sex desires. Through these "treatments," the teens are to aspire to getting "cured" like Reverend Rick (John Gallagher, Jr. of The Newsroom), but not everyone is on board. Soon, Cameron falls into the likes of Jane Fonda (Lane; American Honey) and Adam Red Eagle (Goodluck; The Revenant), and the trio find themselves buying time until they can figure a way out.
Around the main cast are other characters who struggle with their own versions of therapy and conversion. One young woman fell in love with a member of her choir group, while another young man feels that having spent too much time with his mother contributed to his same sex desires. These are sketched out on "icebergs" for the teenagers to work through as they try to recover. While doing phone work, going to religious outings, and learning form outdated school books, they think they will eventually be treated. It's a realization that Cameron and the audience come to at the climax of the film: there is no "treatment."
Although it is complex to understand the roles of all of the individuals in the camp, the characters are shaped so uniquely from one another that they each offer a distinct voice. You know which ones are the troublemakers and which are those who are hoping to follow the rules from the minute they step on screen, and more impressively you are equally invested in each journey, regardless of which path they take. This makes it all the more heartbreaking when one or more of them misstep.
The tension bubbling under the surface of all of the teenagers' interactions, too, which often comes from the obvious consequences of the decisions made by the camp's leaders, are predictable but jarring when they occur. For example, it seems a little silly to have teenagers with same-sex desires be one another's roommates, though this is the set-up. It's no surprise then when Cameron and her roommate end up hooking-up one evening. Similarly, workouts or dining hall dates or anything else the students participate in show the obvious facade for their true desires. It's so clear what the problems are and yet you can't get everyone on board to see why they are happening within the film, something that mirrors the actual discussions revolving around the topic.
Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival
While the film is majorly successful (hence its win for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance this year), a couple of loose threads appear in the retelling of Cameron's past. We see the girl she's fallen for and understand that it was an intense relationship, but when working through the death of her parents, she never cracks or offers much to us in the way the other characters can do so flatly. I don't know if this is a testament to the unwillingness of Cameron to let the camp fully penetrate her mind, or if it's meant to worry us about how she will handle her well-being down the line in life.
Regardless, the dangers of this environment build and build until our trio of stars find enough time to plan their way out after Eagle's roommate tries to castrate himself when it is revealed to him he will not be able to come home from the camp. He is beside himself after spending more than a year doing the suggested work. His father still does not love him "the way he is," which really, is the bigger issue: not the homosexuality, but the obstinance of those who disapprove. This, I believe, is the message the film is trying to needle its audience with, to show you if the teenagers understand, why can't everyone else?
Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival
While other films at the festival have been celebrated for their portrayal of queer characters, I believe this one is truly that to celebrate for the way it highlights the dangers of a repressive community for the maturation of young adults. There is no greater understanding from the wise, elders in this narrative. It comes from the kids themselves. Perhaps we should all take a lesson from their bravery and look to this film as not only a new, coming of age classic, but also as offering a wealth of information about acceptance.
Running time: 91 min | Director: Desiree Akhavan | Starring: Chloë Grace Moretz, Sasha Lane, Forrest Goodluck, and more!
Find out more about The Miseducation of Cameron Post here.
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