Chloë Grace Moretz impresses in a conventional yet charming YA drama, writes Lana Crowe
Chloë Grace Moretz is fast becoming an intriguing actor. From memorable turns in (500) Days of Summer (2009) and Kick-Ass (2010) to a performance opposite Isabelle Huppert in Neil Jordan’s forthcoming drama Greta (2018), Moretz is frighteningly accomplished for someone born in 1997. Her role in The Miseducation of Cameron Post, the latest film from Desiree Akhavan, promised to be refined and provocative – and she didn’t disappoint. The dynamic young cast of this adaptation of Emily M Danforth’s 2012 novel of the same name is totally convincing as a motley crew of LGBTQ+ teenagers trying to make sense of their confusing world: though set in the early-1990s, this movie captures the zeitgeist of 2018.
After being caught having sex with another girl in the back of her car during prom, Cameron Post (Moretz)is sent to God’s Promise, a gay conversion camp where SSA (same-sex attraction) falls somewhere between a symptom of Freudian psychological distress and just plain sin. Cameron and her campmates offer a plethora of struggles, both with their families’ difficulty with their sexuality and their responses to the radical therapy in the camp.
I didn’t come away from the movie feeling particularly moved. But to be disappointed by this is missing the point. It doesn’t need to be original – in fact, if the point is that it situates an underrepresented character narrative within the canon of young adult film, then it needs to be typical. It’s a pastiche of YA movie cliches: secret weed-smoking, an attempted suicide, a prom (for crying out loud). The latter effectively puts Cameron’s struggle into context: it pulls no punches in implying how damaging minute assumptions of heteronormativity can be to those who break the mould. In ways, this movie does take big steps: as Lady Bird (2017) depicted heterosexual teenage sex with a female gaze, The Miseducation of Cameron Post does the same for lesbian sexual expression.
The moments of gentle humour are nothing to write home about: a Christian-themed workout video called Blessercise (1993’s answer to the hair shirt); Cameron’s partner-in-crime in the camp going by the name Jane Fonda. The funniest part of my cinema experience was an old man behind me quietly heckling the Red Bull advert shown before the film (“disgusting”). That’s not to say that it wasn’t entertaining: Cameron leaping onto the kitchen table mid-potato peel during a spirited rendition of 4 Non Blondes’ ‘What’s Up’ made me smile, taking me back to wailing family singalongs on long childhood car-rides.
One of the most dramatic scenes is Mark’s (Owen Campbell) rousing recital of 2 Corinthians 12:7-9. He delivers the oft-repeated words of Paul, climaxing with a heart-wrenching repetition of “For when I am weak, then I am strong” until he is physically stepped on by Dr Marsh (Jennifer Ehle). The queer reading of the passage gives it new life. He quotes, “a thorn in the flesh was given to me,” before mutilating his genitalia. It’s a visceral reminder of the physical burden of urges characterised as wrong, and how teenagehood exacerbates every bodily discomfort.
“I’m tired of feeling disgusted with myself,” Cameron confesses. “Maybe you’re supposed to feel disgusted with yourself when you’re a teenager,” Jane responds. And maybe we’re all supposed to feel disgusted with Red Bull. Despite the abundance of true but trite YA lines, The Miseducation of Cameron Post is another battle won in female filmmaking that will lead the way for more probing films in the future.