Shortly before shooting The Miseducation Of Cameron Post’s most quietly optimistic scene, star Chloë Grace Moretz and the film’s company watched Hillary Clinton’s concession speech after the 2016 election. The former US Secretary of State’s speech was one of strength in the face of adversity, and it’s what fuelled Moretz to give The Miseducation Of Cameron Post her all. The scene in question sees her character, a girl shipped off to gay conversion therapy, abandon her chores in the camp kitchen and start singing along to What’s Up? by 4 Non Blondes. It’s one of the year’s most moving sequences, a beautiful tribute to the strength of the queer spirit in the face of bigotry, and understanding the circumstances Moretz and the cast filmed it in only adds to the relevance of Cameron Post’s message.
Coming so hotly on the heels of two extraordinary love stories that centred gay and bi men – Love, Simon and Call Me By Your Name – The Miseducation of Cameron Post carries an unfair amount of baggage. Those describing it as the lesbian Love, Simon are far from the mark but what The Miseducation of Cameron Post does deliver is its own unique, unabashed brand of optimism and compassion by the dozen.
A teenage girl being caught locking lips with the prom queen in the back of her car and being packed off to gay conversion camp is hardly a fertile starting point for a feel-good drama, but The Miseducation Of Cameron Post makes it work. It’s a film that indescribably benefits from having a queer woman behind the camera, and Desiree Akhavan’s direction is as empathetic and sensual as you’d hope.
Akhavan frames Cameron’s time at the camp, God’s Promise, in the same way Cameron sees it – as this bewildering, stupid and fruitless endeavour. It’s what keeps The Miseducation Of Cameron Post so beautifully grounded in the human experience: God’s Promise is mocked continuously throughout, and while Akhavan does not shy away from acknowledging that camps like this one are the terrifying offshoot of institutional homophobia, she doesn’t engage in any narrative gimmicks to make God’s Promise any more foreboding than it is. What reinforces The Miseducation Of Cameron Post’s commitment to finding hope in resistance is that Cameron has few qualms about her burgeoning desires, she remains staunchly at home in her own body, and the camp does little to change that.
In biding her time at God’s Promise, Cameron meets two fellow queer spirits, the droll Jane Fonda (exquisitely played by the terrific Sasha Lane), named after the actress-cum-activist by her boho parents, and Adam Red Eagle (played by Forrest Goodluck), who defines effortless cool. Together, the three bond over their shared desire to escape God’s Promise and this friendship blossoming in the face of toxicity is what forms the bedrock of the film.
The Miseducation Of Cameron Post soars when it pinpoints the uniqueness and joy found in the gay experience and celebrates that. The aforesaid kitchen scene shows a seldom seen optimism in the face of bigotry, which gladdens the heart, and through her film Akhavan has crafted a gorgeous ode to the tenacity of LGBTQ+ people and their ability to find happiness in anything.
It helps that the performances are reliably strong across the board. As Cameron, Chloë Grace Moretz delivers a turn of great nuance, making full use of her blank eyes and pouting lips, and letting the audience see what Cameron’s going through with little emoting. Sasha Lane is excellent and Forrest Goodluck, too, but one true standout is Hush star John Gallagher Jr., who plays the ‘formerly’ gay camp leader, Reverend Rick. It’s a performance both unexpectedly hilarious yet deeply tragic, as it becomes apparent that Rick and his sister, the altogether icier Lydia (played with a pitch-perfect acerbic flair by Jennifer Ehle) have no idea what they are doing. Everyone here brings something new to the table – for Moretz, it’s a performance deserving of her talents, for Gallagher Jr. it’s a further reaffirmation of how good an actor he is – and Akhavan’s casting decisions pay off in spades.
The Miseducation Of Cameron Post isn’t the sweet, cockles-warming queer female love story the film industry needs but it’s something just as useful. Desiree Akhavan has crafted a story about the bulldog spirit of LGBTQ+ people in the face of homophobia, about finding solace in each other, about trying not to crack, about believing things can get better. What Akhavan is saying is that Cameron Post didn’t give up and neither should anyone else. We need more films like this.
The Miseducation Of Cameron Post is in UK cinemas from Friday.