June 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

“The Miseducation of Cameron Post” Film Wows at Tribeca Film Festival

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Forrest Goodluck, Sasha Lane, and Chloë Grace Moretz in The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Photo: Jeong Park)

The film version of emily m. danforth’s absorbing novel (HarperCollins, 2012) jumps to the head of the class. A well-acted ensemble piece and an intelligent page-to-screen adaptation, it won the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in January, and it was recently among the strongest narrative films at last month’s Tribeca Film Festival.

The film bucked a trend among the roughly dozen narrative features seen at the latter festival, in which the style of acting in other American feature films often came across as either too restrained or too indifferent. The same cannot be said for director Desiree Akhavan’s often riveting film. The cast breaks out of what could, at first, appear as teen archetypes. In fact, I would highly recommend the film on the basis of one scene that is unpredictable and ambiguous—not for what is happening but why. Shot in a single, long take, the performances in this middle-of-the-night sequence are jaw-droppingly good, especially Chloë Grace Moretz, as the title character. Even many scenes are filmed simply without a lot of flash—with two characters just sitting or talking—the film has verve. Many in the cast are Broadway veterans, such as Jennifer Ehle, Kerry Butler, and Emily Skeggs.

Set in the early 1990s, the screenplay nearly cuts out the novel’s first half to focus on when high schooler Cameron is forced by her legal guardian to attend God’s Promises, a gay conversion therapy camp. Gone is the novel’s Big Sky country setting but in its stead, a leafy Northeastern small town; her evangelical guardian, chippy Aunt Ruth, is mostly spectral presence here; and the death of Cameron’s parents in a car accident is briefly touched upon. In both versions, though, Cameron’s wry sense of humor remains intact.

The story line now centers more on the camaraderie among Cameron; Adam (Forrest Goodluck), the Lakota son of a rising politico; and his stoner sidekick, commune-raised Jane, as in Jane Fonda (Sasha Lane)—Jane stores her stash inside her prosthetic leg. Cameron is more of a clean slate onscreen; she doesn’t bear the guilt as she does in the novel, under the belief that, as a 12-year-old, her same-sex attraction caused her parents to perish in the accident.

Obviously, this is a more troubling view of LGBTQ teenage life than in the recent, and lighter, Love, Simon, based on Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. The latter is aspirational and hopeful; Akhavan’s clear-eyed movie is more troubling; self-hatred has a cost. While Cameron and her other queer friends may believe that somehow life will get better, they have little clue on how. If anything, the closing sequence resembles the ending of another coming-of-age film, The Graduate: no one knows what the future will bring. Their personal triumphs aren’t trumpeted.

The film is very much told from a white teen’s perspective, but without the book’s immersion of Cameron’s cultural background of hot summer Montana nights, after-school swim meets, and an early ’90s playlist of R.E.M. and 4 Non Blondes. The filmmakers knowingly cast Moretz, who intentionally looks like a homecoming queen out of Central Casting, with her blonde cascading hair and thick, dark ’90-style eyebrows. Akhavan plays with and punctures stereotypes, as far as the teenagers are concerned.

The adult characters, though, don’t have it as lucky as their well-rounded younger counterparts. In comparison, God’s Promises administrators are one-dimensional and a fairly conventional portrait of button-down repression. The milquetoast head counselor, Reverend Rick (Jon Gallagher Jr.), is a far cry from Danforth’s portrayal of the “Christian-as-cool” spiritual leader, with his “Elvis-blue eyes and very hip shoulder-length brown hair (like so many pictures of Jesus and also rock star Eddie Vedder),” and who is also more skilled in spinning his message during his tense sparring with Cameron. The compound’s hardline director, Lydia (Ehle), is straight out of the Nurse Ratched school of care.

Another difference with Love, Simon is that this movie is scheduled to open in the late summer in selected cities, unlike Love Simon’s 2,402 screen debut in March. If and when it is rated by the MPAA, it will probably earn an “R,” for language, drug use, the matter-of-fact sexual content, and nudity. In fact, it might be the highest compliment to say that the film version does not at all feel compromised in the transfer to screen; it tones nothing down. Though the film may not be seen by a wide audience at first, and may be hard to track down, hopefully teens will find it at some point, through video-on-demand or streaming—oh, and adults, too.

Directed by Desiree Akhavan

Opening August 3

Released by FilmRise

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Kent Turner About Kent Turner

Kent Turner (kturner@mediasourceinc.com) edits SLJ's DVD reviews and is the editor of Film-Forward.com

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