These days, when gay marriage is legal, same-sex parenting is no longer shocking, and every tween and her best friend group identifies as something other than straight, homosexuality can seem mundane, even passé. But it wasn't that long ago when gay folks in much of mainstream America were considered freaks, weirdos, abberations, sinners, or simply "gender confused." The Miseducation of Cameron Post, directed by Desiree Akhavan and based on the 2012 novel by Emily M. Danforth, harks back to that time, evoking an uncomfortable nostalgia for an era that no one in their right mind would miss.
And yet, it's kind of hard not to feel nostalgic when Cameron Post—an orphaned teenager played by a Chloë Grace Moretz and her lips—is busted making out with her girlfriend, quickly whisked off to a conversion school for gay kids, and immediately caught trying to smuggle in a Breeders tape. "They’re not singing in praise of the Lord, now are they?" says Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr.), the school's bubbling leader, as he confiscates the tape and asks her to sign a behavioral contract. "Now you’re officially a disciple of God’s Promise," he says as she signs away her soul on the dotted line.
Rick, like Cameron, struggles with "same-sex attraction," and he isn't intentionally cruel, just clueless. His religion teaches him that there's no such thing as homosexuality, just confusion and bad choices, and that there's a way out of this path if one just works hard enough. We know, of course, that is impossible: Even Exodus International, the country's most prominent conversion camp, closed down, and the leader apologized for the "hurt and pain" they had caused. But Cameron and the other baby gays go through the motions, processing their feelings and analyzing the source of their attraction as though the ideal combo of talking and praying will cure it. Some teens see through the charade, others are deeply harmed by it, and the film exposes the hypocrisy behind both conversion therapy and the ideology that created it.
Unfortunately, conversion therapy isn't entirely in the past. It's still legal in more than half the states, and there are shiny new ex-gay movements popping up. The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a timely reminder of the destruction this kind of "therapy" can wrought. Still, it wasn't only meant to appeal to queer audiences, Akhavan told me in conversation. It's not just about a queer person's sexuality; it's about a young woman's—something rarely captured on film with such honesty or with such beauty as this.