Buy The Miseducation of Cameron Post Movie Tie-in Edition
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Publisher: Balzer & Bray
Reviewer: Melissa on August 15, 2018
Book Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Film Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
When Emily M. Danforth’s novel, The Miseducation of Cameron Post came out in 2012, I immediately added it to my TBR, but it wasn’t until 2014 that I actually had the opportunity to sit down and read it. This delay between when I read the book and now meant that when I went to see the film adaptation by Iranian-American director Desiree Akhavan this week at TIFF Bell Lightbox, the only cinema in Toronto and one of only three cinemas in Canada showing The Miseducation of Cameron Post film, the book was something I only remember vaguely. Obviously I remembered the LGBTQIA+ content and that part of it took place in a gay conversion therapy center, I also vaguely remembered that several of the summer scenes took place at the local pool as Cameron was a swimmer.
For those who have possibly read the book more recently, you might be disappointed that rather than adapt the book in its entirety, Akhavan decided to focus, primarily, on the time that Cameron (played by Chloë Grace Moretz) spends at God’s Promise, the gay conversion therapy center mentioned in the book with only a few flashbacks to key events in her life at home prior to this time. Personally, this change in focus didn’t bother me – not because I thought that the book was too long, a criticism with which any book closing in on 500 pages might get saddled – but rather because to reflect the entire book accurately would’ve required a running time much longer than the palatable 1 hour and 31 minutes with which it was released. Possibly a TV or digital mini-series would be the only way to do it without leaving anything on the celluloid floor, but it would be difficult, if not outright impossible, to do so on an indie budget while still maintaining a professional look and feel to the end product.
Akhavan made other changes, such as making Cameron a track and field athlete rather than a swimmer, so that the character could demonstrate her athleticism in the context of the film and set, which didn’t have a pool or swimming hole. Moreover, I’m pretty sure that the book detailed scenes in which the characters at the conversion therapy camp needed to participate in role play depicting some of the abuse or trauma that they experienced prior to ending up in God’s Promise, but rather the film focused primarily on one-on-one and group therapy sessions. Finally, the death of Cameron’s parents, including the reaction she had to it because she was kissing a girl at the time, and the conclusion in which Cameron, Jane, a stoner amputee (played by Sasha Lane), and Adam, a two-spirit teen (played by Forrest Goodluck), end up at a lake near where Cameron’s parents died to let go of her grief and shame about being queer weren’t a part of the film. Instead, there are several times at God’s Promise where Cameron mentions that her parents have died, and both the counsellors and her friends at the center suggest that her orphan status is something that may have contributed to or at the very least will be a believable explanation to the counsellors about why she started having same sex attraction. But again, I don’t fault Akhavan for any of these changes when making this film. Rather the focus that she took made the end result, in my opinion, more powerful, and didn’t necessitate employing a child actor to play Cameron as an 11 year old, something which may not have been in the budget and would’ve certainly required the audience to suspend their disbelief when someone was so obviously not Chloë Grace Moretz played her at a younger age.
For me to say that The Miseducation of Cameron Post film adaptation was brilliant might seem a bit obvious considering that in won the U.S. dramatic grand jury prize at Sundance in January of this year. But the truth is that it was. Brilliant I mean. While story takes place in 1993, it nevertheless is timely given the political climate in the United States where the sitting Vice President has long faced criticism for being a supporter of conversion therapy. While Pence denies these claims, he hasn’t been able to dodge his critics for this belief in supporting “institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior” despite the fact that conversion therapy has been condemned by many groups, including the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association, which said it was based on the view that homosexuality is a disorder, an idea “that has been rejected by all the major mental health professions.” While the film doesn’t outright condemn Reverend Rick (played by John Gallagher Jr.) and Dr. Lydia Marsh (played by Jennifer Ehle), but instead, ultimately, makes the viewer empathize with them for their flawed way of thinking and the suffering that Rick also endured as a “success story” from Lydia, his sister’s, practices to pray the gay away.
That’s not to say that as a viewer, I didn’t feel animosity to some of the things Rick and Lydia said and some of the actions they take. In the scene in which Cameron first meets Lydia, for example, she asks Lydia to call her Cam. I’ll admit to swearing at Lydia under my breath when she refuses because Cameron’s name is already so masculine and that it likely contributed to her “gender confusion.” For a large part of the film, I felt a growing sense of animosity toward Lydia, in particular, as she attempts to use her education in therapy to create or increase the sense of shame that these young, vulnerable teens feel as they really make an effort to rid themselves of their same sex attraction. Moreover, the scene in which Lydia holds Mark down with a foot on his back until he calms down, and the horrifying results of it, gave me goosebumps. Personally, the only time I really felt for Rick and Lydia were when, in the aftermath of what happened to Mark, Rick breaks down when Cameron realizes that they don’t know what they’re doing, and most likely, Rick is feeling his own trauma from going through this type of therapy himself. In that moment, it was clear that Lydia and Rick were really just trying to do what they thought was best for these teens even if I can see it for the flawed logic that it is.
Beyond the clear condemnation of conversion therapy, viewers of this film, especially LGBTQIA+ viewers, will appreciate the sensitive and subject-oriented way that the sex scenes between Cameron and Coley (played by Quinn Shephard), who Cameron was caught with finally on prom by her boyfriend, were filmed. One of the only comparative scene depicting a teen girl in a sex scene that is readily memorable were the scenes in Blue is the Warmest Color, directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, was around seven minutes long, and has been widely criticized as being pornographic. This isn’t what you will find in The Miseducation of Cameron Post film. While Akhavan’s film doesn’t cut away from the most intimate moments between Cameron and Coley, there is never a point in which their sexuality is used to give a voyeuristic look at lesbian sex. Comparatively, the sex scenes in The Miseducation of Cameron Post were relatively chaste with clothes staying mostly in place and sexual acts happening either under the cloak of relative darkness, clothing, blankets, or a combination of the three, thus never being a means of voyeuristic titillation for the audience and depicting what early sexuality between two teen girls might look like.
For those looking for a queer film made by queer people that is a powerful condemnation of conversion therapy, a great adaption of Emily M. Danforth’s novel, and a subject-oriented, not object-oriented, version of the sexuality between two teen girls, I highly recommend you make your way to one of the cinemas in Canada and the US that are currently featuring The Miseducation of Cameron Post. You won’t regret it.
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