With her quirky, break-through lesbian comedy “Appropriate Behavior” (which she wrote, directed, and starred in four years ago), Desiree Akhavan gave notice that she was a force to be reckoned with. She’s now directing a strong version of “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” based on the Emily M. Danforth young adult novel and starring Decatur’s Chloe Grace Moretz. It opens in the ATL this weekend.
The winner of the Sundance Grand Jury Prize earlier in 2018, “Miseducation” takes place in 1993, when Cameron (Moretz) is found in the back of her car with girlfriend Coley (Quinn Shephard) on prom night. Ironically, the two are found by their prom dates. Cameron is sent to God’s Promise, a conversion therapy center, by her aghast parents. The counselors there use all sorts of methods to “de-gay” their house full of children. It’s run by Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle) and her brother, Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr.). Marsh lets the students know that their feelings are really temptations from the devil, and that prayer can “save” them. The reverend likes to tell the new enrollees how he was “changed” from the SSA (same sex attraction) that used to feel.
It’s not a place Cameron feels comfortable. What she finds, though, are a number of other young people she can confide in and get close to. Out actress Sasha Lane, seen earlier this season in “Hearts Beat Loud,” plays Jane and Forrest Goodluck is Adam Red Eagle, a Navajo Two-spirit. They are both at God’s Promises for family reasons. Cameron’s roommate is Erin (Emily Skeggs), who is very enthusiastic but is clearly dealing with inner demons of her own. Some of the young people seem to want change, but others seem comfortable in who they are, and scoff at what the leaders of the house are trying to get them to do.
“The Miseducation of Cameron Post” is not a campy movie — it takes its subject matter very seriously. Given the theme, it would seem to be a harrowing journey, but in the hands of Akhavan, it’s not. Sure, there are some sad sequences and a moment of tragedy for one of the kids, but it’s not an overtly dour drama or a PSA for acceptance. Akhavan has been quoted as saying she wanted to make a John Hughes comedy. That’s not really the case here. The film isn’t in the John Hughes vein — it doesn’t lend itself to light and frothy material — but it’s nonetheless an even keeled, level-headed piece of work. One of the most commendable aspects about Akhavan’s movie is its ensemble cast. Ehle is frightening as the counselor of the house, yet she’s not a caricature. Lane, Skeggs, and newcomer Goodluck are also quite persuasive.
Yet this is Moretz’s movie. For someone as young as she is, Moretz has been around a very long time and this is easily one of her best, most quiet performances. A lot of her work is about observing her surroundings and then beginning to feel comfortable about who she is. This is being regarded as the indie version “conversion therapy movie” with the big-budget “Boy Erased” coming out the fall and dealing with similar material. How that movie deals with the territory remains to be seen, but “Miseducation” handles it all with warmth and compassion.
“The Miseducation of Cameron Post”
Opens August 17
Landmark Midtown Art Cinema