Last year saw the release of two feature films that dealt with the horrific topic of gay conversion therapy. One was Joel Edgerton’s harrowing drama ‘Boy Erased’, and the other Desiree Akhavan’s adaptation of Emily Danforth’s novel, ‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post’, the story of a teenage girl growing up in a devoutly religious town, who faces extreme consequences after being caught making out with another girl in her car at the prom. After her parents death, Cameron is being raised by an aunt, who feels the only option is to send her niece to ‘God’s Promise’, an institution that promises to “cure” it’s young students of their ‘SSA’ (same sex attraction). It is difficult to accept that this kind of ‘therapy’ still goes on in the modern world, but Akhavan has brought it to our screens in a way that raises awareness whilst also telling a beautifully heartfelt and emotional coming-of-age story.
Each student at God’s Promise is encouraged to try and get to the source of their ‘problem’, using techniques like the ‘iceberg’ chart, on which they draw up on issues below the surface that they feel may have contributed to this ‘confusion’ they have come to feel in their sexuality. Things like sports, and relationships with their parents, are all attributed to how they have become the way they are. It’s at once heartbreaking and anger inducing that these therapies exist, but the film approaches everyone with the same compassion, eager not to paint anyone as a stereotypical villain. These people, though terrifyingly misinformed, genuinely believe they are helping.
The wide array of characters Cameron meets at God’s Promise are made up of a wonderful supporting cast. Some are eager to change, like her roommate Erin (Emily Skeggs), who innocently throws herself into the process, genuinely wanting to squash her feelings of attraction towards girls. Amongst these willing students include the sweet-natured Mark (Owen Campbell), and Helen (Melanie Ehrlich), a girl with a passion for singing who was sent to God’s Promise after becoming obsessed with a female singer in her choir. The gang that Cameron naturally gravitates to, however, all share in her skepticism towards the method. Jane, played by the mesmerising Sasha Lane, and best friend Adam (Forrest Goodluck), accept Cameron into their tight knit group. They form a beautiful bond, and the three admirable performances create a magical feeling of budding friendship.
The God’s Promise staff are played to perfection, and could be seen as almost the most tragic figures in the story, so blind to the importance of human expression in young people, and plagued with such warped and dangerous views of the world. Rick (John Gallagher Jr.) is the friendly, somewhat pathetic, guitar playing reverend, who himself confesses to be in ‘recovery’ from his own homosexuality. The closest thing we get to a Nurse Ratched villain is school principal Dr. Marsh, played with menacing calmness and control by Jennifer Ehle. Her methods, which she seems to genuinely believe are beneficial, end up doing far more harm than good.
The star performance, of course, is Chloe Grace-Moretz, who plays Cameron with incredible reservation and understated sadness. Moretz portrays such a powerful sense of struggling with one’s identity as she battles between wanting to change but also feeling that she doesn’t need to be ashamed. The relationships she forms with her fellow ‘inmates’ are at the heart of the films emotion, and the chemistry between the actors is palpable.
Akhavan takes a subject that is incredibly harrowing, but instead of painting these people as over-the-top villains, she treats each person with a sense of understanding. The ‘miseducation’ actually becomes an ‘education’ for Cameron, as their teachings and methods actually counterintuitively bring her closer to accepting who she is, accepting that maybe she doesn’t believe in all the things she has been brought up to, and that there is no need for her to feel disgusted in herself anymore. It’s a really important, beautiful and incredibly moving film, and there is no time like the present for this topic to be confronted… as hard as it may be to accept, gay conversion therapy still exists, and it must be exposed for the incredibly harmful effect that it has on people today.
Drama, Romance | USA, 2018 | 15 | Vertigo Releasing | DVD | Out Now To Own| Dir.Desiree Akhavan |Chloë Grace Moretz, Jennifer Ehle, Sasha Lane, Forrest Goodluck, John Gallagher Jr.