Not since ‘The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’ has an entry into the ‘amazing-films-with-LGBTI-themes’ canon had so headline-unfriendly a title as ‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post’. Seriously, pair it with ‘Chloë Grace Moretz’ (the name of the film’s star) and try having characters left over for anything else!
But if any film warrants so arresting a title, it’s this one. Not least because of the huge impact it makes via surprisingly muted means.
Indeed, given its name – faithfully taken from the 2012 Emily M. Danforth novel on which it is based – and the heavy subject matter at hand (a teenage girl attracted to other girls is sent to a Christian conversion camp in Montana), it surprised me when the film wrapped up after a concise 90 minutes. And at a moment I wasn’t really expecting it to, to boot.
‘This isn’t the film you think it’s going to be’
But this is the film’s power. It isn’t quite what you think it’s going to be.
The people running the camp, for example, aren’t one-dimensional caricatures. In fact, they’re mostly rather likeable. To my horror, I warmed to them instantly. I even found myself nodding along to some of religious claptrap they were coming out with.
It’s not until a moment of tragedy occurs off screen – a deviation from the gentle, casual insidiousness running throughout – that you truly gain perspective and realize you’ve kind of been going native. But you don’t come away finding the people responsible evil, per se. You long to help them, as well as the innocent teens along for the ride.
Similarly, the setting is inviting. The camp itself is rustic, cozy; the surrounding forest exists in a perpetual state of brisk, sunny autumn. How I pined to join the campers for hikes and hangouts in the Montana wilderness, for my sins.
This has plenty to do with the mildly rebellious, weed-smoking mini-clique Cameron inserts herself into not long after arrival, after being caught with with a girl in the backseat of a car on prom night shortly before.
Forrest Goodluck and Sasha Lane are perfectly cast as Cameron’s achingly cool confidants Adam Red Eagle and Jane Fonda. (See, even their names are cool.)
We all had friends like them at that age. Equal parts serious and fun-loving, the intensity of adolescence and burgeoning sexuality etched all over their beautiful, bored faces.
In the case of Sasha – who revealed her own gay identity at Post’s Sundance press junket this year – her character Jane has a lot in common with American Honey’s Star. In that movie, a tearaway teen bulldozes her away through her coming of age journey. Here, Jane’s light is comparatively dampened.
‘Chloe underplays the smart, questioning Cameron’
But it’s Chloe who carries the film. She tackles some demanding sex scenes with effortless grace and poise. Several women have told me they look and feel highly naturalistic, much like this year’s Rachel Weisz-starring Obedience.
Chloe furthermore underplays the smart, questioning Cameron, channeling an instantly relatable teenage awkwardness that’s luminously restrained.
And by the way, it’s not like she can’t do the opposite when she wants to. To my mind, the range she’s shown to date – across 65 film credits, and she’s only 21! – helps warrant an Oscar nomination for this part.
For example, I was almost dying for her to serve the camp counsellors some Hit-Girl from Kick-Ass attitude (I.e. ‘okay you c****…’). But that isn’t Cameron’s way. Although, that’s not to say she doesn’t speak up with a self-assured glint in her eye at a pivotal moment in the film.
Indeed, Chloe’s understatement is echoed throughout this quiet drama – and it’s all the more powerful for it.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post is in UK cinemas from 7 September