When it comes to LGBTQ+ literature, it might be fair to say that the queer coming of age tale is a sub genre, of young adult fiction in particular, that gets a lot of play. As luck would have it, it just so happens that I believe The Miseducation Of Cameron Post, Emily M. Danforth’s 2012 debut novel, to be one of the very best examples of its kind. In addition to the stellar source material, this big screen adaptation had another big thing going for it, the filmmaking talents of director Desiree Akhavan, whose feature film debut Appropriate Behaviour is one of the few LGBT films on Netflix that is worth anyone’s time.
Set in Montana in 1993, the film tells the story of Cameron Post (Chloë Grace Moretz), a teenager who is sent to a gay conversion camp by her evangelical family after being caught in an amorous tryst with another girl on prom night. On the whole, it is an atmospheric, poignant and inspiringly defiant look at a subject that could so easily wallow in despair, and whilst the film is engrossing and interesting from the first minute to the last, I can’t help the feeling that I left the cinema having only seen a third of a much bigger, deeper story.
This, of course, is exactly what transpired. The Miseducation Of Cameron Post is a near 500 page novel, within which our protagonist does not arrive at God’s Promise camp until just past the half way point. By that time, we’ve lived through her sexual awakening and life experience from as young as 12 years old. It’s not Desiree Akhavan’s fault, she has a movie run time and realistic filmability to contend with, but there is definitely a lack of character depth on screen compared to on the page. Even for someone coming to the story completely clean, I can imagine that the story of Cameron Post feels like only a third or so of a fully developed narrative. You get a sense of this in the brief snippets of ‘pre-camp’ life that the audience are treated to (credit to Akhavan for for so economically trying to capture the tone of 200 plus book pages in to about five interspersed minutes of footage). I can’t speak for everyone, but I found myself wanting more of these snippets, wanting to spend more time with the Cameron on the outside of conversion camp than with the Cameron inside it.
That isn’t to say, however, that the film doesn’t impress with what it does present, even if things don’t feel quite as developed as one would like. The general vibe of hypocrisy and pointlessness that define’s Cameron and her peer’s experiences at God’s Promise makes for evocative and enraging viewing, with the camaraderie between the main character and the friends that she makes feeling somewhat reminiscent of the best parts of something like Girl, Interrupted. The attitudes and actions of the various group of ‘disciples’ runs the spectrum from inspiring to heartbreaking, all with the defiant message that anything operating under the guise of gay conversion is total and utter bullshit. It’s best summed up with a line from Cameron herself towards the end of the film, “how is programming people to hate themselves not emotional abuse?”.
Chloë Grace Moretz gives a really strong performance as Cameron. The audience are literally dropped in to the moment in her life in which external forces are forcibly trying to change her, and one of the best compliments I can think to give Moretz is that she immediately and economically injects as much of the ‘real’ Cameron in to the character as she can to strike a connection with the audience (something that book readers had hundreds of pages to enjoy before the pivotal plot moment arrives). She carries herself with a defiant swagger, and for what it’s worth, her romantic scenes look and feel about as authentic as I’ve seen in a long, long time. You’d be surprised by just how awkward girls kissing other girls can look on the big screen when they’re getting it unbelievably wrong.
Moretz is supported by a diverse, equally strong cast, from Sasha Lane and Forrest Goodluck who play her closest camp companions Jane Fonda (yes, really) and Adam Red Eagle, to Jennifer Ehle and John Gallagher, Jr. who play camp director Dr. Lydia March and her brother Reverend Rick, a tortured ‘success story’ of the institution’s practices. Every single performer involved, whether in a major or minor capacity, does a great job of making their presence felt with what little time they have. It is arguably the charisma and intrigue of the characters that excuse some of the back story and development shortcuts that the film’s runtime forces it to take.
Overall, The Miseducation Of Cameron Post goes down as one of the more valiant large novel adaptations that I have seen for a while. The fact that I wished for an extra hour or more in the presence of the story and the characters has to be testament to the fact that Desiree Akhavan, Chloë Grace Moretz and co. did a fantastic job on the whole. The subject matter and the authentic defiance, tragedy, rightly exposed hypocrisy and all important light in darkness makes for a truly touching and engrossing coming of age tale, albeit in extreme teen circumstances. It’s just a shame that we couldn’t have been treated to just a smidge more character depth amidst the bigger picture themes. I’m not saying three hour long director’s cut, but, three hour long director’s cut?