There's a moment in the trailer of Alfonso Cuarón's "Gravity" where Sandra Bullock's astronaut is cast off the space station and sent hurtling into the void. Tumbling, clutching vacant space; that lack of an anchor is the perfect metaphor for the director and co-writer Desiree Akhavan's "The Miseducation of Cameron Post" (hereafter TMOCP), a laughable and disturbing vision of life behind the lines of gay conversion therapy.
When Cameron (Chloë Grace Moretz) is caught in fooling around with Coley (Quinn Shephard ) in the carpark of a school dance. Her conservative Christian Aunt (her guardian) ships her off to a retreat where she'll learn how to "correct" her "false" impulses before being granted permission to come back to reality.
With curved ball after the curved ball being thrown at Cameron, who isn't fully aware of the rules, you watch repressed kids start navigating camp life like they're in the East German Stasi (secret police) from "The Lives of Others"; using other indiscretions as deflections. Emily Skeggs's Erin embodies this contradiction and her desperation and insecurity to conform is hilarious. Cameron's ride as her roommate is quite the rollercoaster. Akhavan and co-writer Cecilia Frugiuele script at times felt evocative of Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master," or Chapman and Maclain Way's thrilling documentary series "Wild Wild Country." Pseudoscience is a weapon, and in the hands of delusional facilitators, the actual trauma being caused in this repression is unrecognisable until it's too late.
Akhavan's aesthetic style defined by the contrasts. In the opening school, dance Akhavan renders low budget high school aesthetic in the glorious harsh reality that you can objectively pull from the past. Threadbare streamers, hunched embraces that look more like Mr Olympia poses than canoodling and kisses that feel like they contain teeth add the physical embodiment and the mise-en- scène of public high school. When the setting shifts to the camp, TMOCP traverses the faded remnants of 70s refurbishment where white walls look like yellowing teeth. However, in flashbacks or dreams fuelled by carnal desires convey transcendent sensuality. In every vision of Cameron and Coley, lighting shifts, the music soars; erotic dreams are almost indistinguishable from these real moments of intimacy. The reality portrayed in these heightened moments is unrecognisable from the drab daily life in the camp.
Cameron is an opportunity for Moretz to shine between the lines of dialogue. Cameron, as teens should be (yeah I'm talking to you Dawson) is authentically inarticulate. As she's going through this experience, she's lost for words on many occasions, laughs awkwardly at outbursts from fellow frustrated inmates, is visibly plagued with doubt; and fortunately is in the safe hands of Akhavan crafting an emotive and sincere portrayal of this directionlessness. Sasha Lane 's Jane and Forrest Goodluck's Adam are the veteran's of the camp that despite increased aptitude in the camp's 'game,' are kept on a short leash. Lane and Goodluck do some terrific work letting their dissatisfaction peek through the facade of progress.
Jennifer Ehle is utterly mesmerising as Dr Lydia Marsh. She's the Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) of the facility. Rather than Ratched's vindictive streak that emerges toward the end of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," Marsh (Ehle), the sister of the camp's guitar strumming 'convert' Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr.), uses the proximity to her first victim as a suffocating reminder that her success rate is undeniable.
Until the final shot of the film, its specific period setting is unclear. There's a kind of comfort in believing that institutions a more distant past is a fool's hope. Akhavan's "The Miseducation of Cameron Post" is unflinching and fair with the frightening consequences of the laughable quest for spaces to "pray the gay away," while equally portraying the overwhelming beauty of same-sex sensuous love. Jane (Lane), has the line of the film; “Maybe you’re supposed to feel disgusted with yourself when you’re a teenager.” Regardless of gender or sexual preference, that's a universal truth of adolescence.
Directed by: Desiree Akhavan
Written by: Desiree Akhavan and Cecilia Frugiuele (based on the Emily M. Danforth novel)
Chloë Grace Moretz
John Gallagher Jr.
In Limited Release from 6 September 2018 in Australia
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