A teen has just mutilated himself at a gay conversion therapy camp, prompting police to investigate whether the kids at the center are being abused by their counselors.
An officer asks teenager Cameron Post (Chloë Grace Moretz) if she or any of the other “clients” are being hurt.
Not physically, she says.
What about emotionally?
Cameron: “How is programming people to hate themselves not emotional abuse?”
That’s the question/accusation/outrage at the heart of “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” a small and quietly powerful film about the perils of trying to pray the gay away.
Directed by Desiree Akhavan and based on a book of the same name by UNL grad Emily M. Danforth, “Cameron Post” is set in 1993 Montana and follows its titular teen, who’s just been caught fooling around with her girlfriend. Caught by the family pastor, no less! Cameron’s fundamentalist aunt — her parents are dead — ships her off to God’s Promise, where she will be deprogrammed of her sin.
God’s Promise is run by Dr. Lydia (Jennifer Ehle), a Nurse Ratched-esque despot who insists Cameron not go by “Cam.”
Cameron is already a masculine name, Lydia tells her. She doesn’t want to make Cameron’s gender identity any more confusing than it already is.
Cameron quickly finds her fellow rebels: a girl named Jane Fonda (Sasha Lane, of “American Honey”) and Adam (Forrest Goodluck). Together, the trio take long hikes in the woods, smoke pot and bristle against Lydia’s therapy and the complacency of their Kool-Aid-drinking classmates.
“The Miseducation of Cameron Post” is quite funny at points. Funny in Cameron’s dry running commentary about her situation. (Moretz, who’s struggled in the past with naturalistic acting, is very good here.) And funny in the kitschy aesthetic of its ’90s bible camp.
But this is about 75 percent a low-key, downbeat indie drama. And one that never quite reaches the emotional intensity you might expect from this kind of story. It opts to make its points in subtler ways. In fact, the film’s most nuanced character is also its most memorable (and heartbreaking).
Reverend Rick (a terrific John Gallagher Jr.) is the younger brother of Dr. Lydia. Rick was gay, until he was successfully “cured” by his sister’s methods. He’s her shining example. He’s even married to a woman.
Now Lydia’s enforcer, Rick is both victim and abuser. He’s clearly aware of both the old trauma he’s suffered and the new trauma he’s inflicting, but he doesn’t know how to stop or where else to go.
“The Miseducation of Cameron Post” is not a great film, but it is a good one — and one that understands the impossible situations young people can find themselves in when the demands of faith, family and biology refuse to be reconciled.