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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 17, 2018 - Volume 46 Issue 33
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Teenage awakening - The Miseducation of Cameron Post director Desiree Akhavan on giving her Gay conversion drama authentic emotional life
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST
Now playing


Based on the book by Emily M. Danforth, The Miseducation of Cameron Post is one of 2018's best films. Written and directed by Desiree Akhavan, the story follows the titular orphan after is she is sent by her guardians to attend God's Promise, a Gay conversion camp whose mission is to help their teenage 'disciples' overcome their battle with same-sex attraction and live a more biblical life. Chloë Grace Moretz portrays Cameron with a level of empathetic specificity that's astonishing, while Sasha Lane and Forrest Goodluck add sensational support as two fellow disciples at God's Promise her character makes almost instantaneous friends with.

The reason the movie works so well is that it never preaches, Akhavan refusing to push any sort of sermonizing agenda while she allows all of the story's various characters discover which path they're most comfortable walking down in as naturalistic a manner as possible. This allows the myriad of emotions lurking at the narrative's core to speak with authoritative gusto, Cameron's journey to self-acceptance universally relatable no matter what the viewer's age, gender, race or background.

I had the pleasure to chat briefly with Akhavan about her film one day before its theatrical release here in Seattle. Here are some of the highlights from our conversation:

Sara Michelle Fetters: Not only has the film done well during its time out on the festival circuit earlier this year, now that it's in general release The Miseducation of Cameron Post has been receiving a litany of rave reviews and enthusiastic responses from ticket-buying audiences. I imagine you're feeling pretty terrific about all of this right about now.

Desiree Akhavan: Thank you for saying that! I feel really grateful. I'm just feeling so grateful right now. It's surreal. I think everybody looks for the negative and I'm like kinda waiting for the rug to be pulled from underneath my feet. But right this moment? I'm feeling grateful and happy.

Sara Michelle Fetters: What was it about Emily Danforth's book that inspired you and got your creative juices flowing?

Desiree Akhavan: It was a few things. First off, it was the most honest depiction of being a teenager I had ever read. People had been really talking down the experience of growing up and teen movies haven't spoken to me since The Breakfast Club. This book invigorated me. It spoke to me. I really related to it.

It was the tone. I felt like it balanced the drama and the angst of being a teenager with the sexiness of your first experiences and also the comedy and the absurdity of being under the thumb of authority figures who don't really know what they're doing. It really got that balance right and I just felt when I read it like I wasn't alone in my experience of being a teenager.

Sara Michelle Fetters: How hard was it though for you and Cecilia Frugiuele to adapt the book's style and tone and yet still make the story your own? What was it like balancing being respectful to the source material but still making sure Emily's narrative was going to work as a motion picture?

Desiree Akhavan: It took a while. It took a lot of work and a lot of massaging different interpretations. Our first pass was incredibly loyal to the book and we did it sort of line by line. It was a very literal translation and it didn't work at all. What we realized, over the course of the year that we were adapting it, was that we actually had to divorce ourselves from the source material and take it for a ride. To hit you the same way it does but in a different format, in a 90-minute narrative as opposed to a 500-page book, we were gonna have to fabricate a bunch of scenes and find a way to bring the humor and the drama to life a little differently.

We did our research and we made things up. We created a backstory for Reverend Rick. We had more scenes about the nitty-gritty details of what it is to be in conversion therapy. That scene on the grass when they're talking about their pasts and stuff was our own work, born from the research Cecilia and I did.

It was funny; to be closer to the book we had to take steps further away from literally transcribing it. It took a year and a lot of research and a lot of soul searching to get there. It was really tricky [because] we didn't want to deviate too far from the source material. It was a balance, and doing it with my business partner, Cecilia, is what made it work. I think between the two of us we kept checking in and watching each other to make sure we were on the same page with the book and where we wanted to go with the movie.

Sara Michelle Fetters: I have to admit, I knew I was going to love this movie, literally like six minutes, because of that opening montage at the high school dance. It's so mundane that it's perfect. That was exactly like the high school dances I had to go to when I was a teenager myself back in the 1990s.

Desiree Akhavan: Me, too! Totally. That was the idea. I love that montage. Yeah, that's my editor. That's all thanks to Sara Shaw. When you asked about the tone and our translating it from book to film? I have to also give credit to Sara who really understood what I was going after. For that opening, we had about 40 minutes of footage before Cameron even gets to God's Promise in the first assembly of the film. I just told Sara, can we condense that into a music video that's basically just vintage high school Americana? And that's what Sara gave me. I gave her a very vague note and she gave me a killer opening sequence. That's her work and her taste. It's fantastic.

Sara Michelle Fetters: I do have to say, the level of empathy that you're able to delicately infuse into this story, I never felt like I was being hit over the head with what was going on with any of the themes. When you're putting this together and you're dealing with the actors, and the material is so very tough at times, how do you keep everybody focused so that we as an audience do care, that we do empathize, and not just with Cameron or the other kids, but even with Rick and the other adults at God's Promise? How do you manage to do that?

Desiree Akhavan: You hire people who are smarter than you. You cast well. You hire a smart casting director. You make sure you're on the same page. But I'm really proud of this group of people, primarily women, who made this film with me. Jessica Daniels, the casting director, found the perfect cast. Chloë was focused and created a character who she never judged and was always present; she took so many risks. Ashley Conner, my cinematographer, has an incredible aesthetic eye and handheld the entire film so well. Her handheld camerawork is like butter. She's just a poet with that camera, a poet with an Alexa. Ashley just got in there and she and Chloë really vibed with each other. They were a strong creative team.

For me, I just sit back and I let these people do their jobs. If I did a good job of hiring and creating a group of people who were all on the same page, then what you're talking about in your question was always going to be the result.

Sara Michelle Fetters: Those scenes with Chloë, Sasha Lane and Forrest Goodluck where they're just together and it's just the three of them, there were times where I feel like that's just completely unscripted, that you just let them go.

Desiree Akhavan: Thank you! I'm glad you feel that way because it was highly scripted. [laughs]

I love writing dialogue. I really love writing dialogue, especially communicative dialogue and that was such a pleasure here. It was still tense, though. We shot all of those exterior scenes together in one day and we had to chase the light because we were shooting in the Fall and the days kept getting shorter and shorter. It was rushed and it was crazy and we couldn't be precious. Everyone had to be word perfect. It's a testament to all three of them that we got it and it ended up feeling like that.

Sara Michelle Fetters: I don't want to ruin the moment, but I think my favorite scene in the film is one between Chloë and John Gallagher Jr. late in the film where Cameron really finally understands what's happening, figures out a devastating truth about Reverend Rick and the other adults at God's Promise.

Desiree Akhavan: And you see her realize it.

Sara Michelle Fetters: Precisely.

Desiree Akhavan: I'm sorry to cut you off, but what I love about Chloë in that scene is that she's realizing it as she says it. She makes it so real.

Sara Michelle Fetters: The way she and John play that scene&

Desiree Akhavan: It's really heartbreaking. They're both so good.

Sara Michelle Fetters: It's like music, and they're in perfect harmony.

Desiree Akhavan: Yeah. Exactly. We did very few takes. I was super impressed. I remember that day was a rough one. It was the day after the election and that morning was brutal. We had a big scene of Cameron dancing on the top of the table in the kitchen that morning and then it was the end of the day and I just wanted to let everybody go but we still had that scene and John had to break down so hard. I didn't want to take too many takes, you know? We were all already feeling so emotionally spent because of the election. I didn't want to tire him out too much, because a scene like that, it's about stamina. I knew he was going to get just so much out of Chloë's responses to him. I needed it to be genuine. I think we did two takes of Chloë's close up. I think we did maybe three of John's. It went by very quickly. They were both on the same page almost right away.

I'm not kidding. I felt like from the first take of Chloë and the second take of John I had what I needed and then everything after that was insurance. They're very smart people and really intuitive actors. They read it on the page and they knew what was happening. Fortunately, I got it very quickly, and that's all due to them.

Sara Michelle Fetters: I think we would be remiss if we don't recognize Jennifer Ehle. Dr. Lydia Marsh, that's not an easy role to play. And for some reason we don't hate her. We don't necessarily like her, but we still empathize even though we know what she's doing at God's Promise is unconscionably wrong.

Desiree Akhavan: Because Jennifer's so frickin' lovable! [laughs] But seriously, she really did a lot of work. She sculpted a whole backstory to Lydia. It was about creating a character who had devoted her life to children and to the betterment of kids, about saving them from their own worst impulses. Giving them a future. Only to end up becoming someone who potentially, and inadvertently, does more harm than good. With that in mind, Jennifer made Lydia this all-knowing figure who you couldn't help but care about even though you wanted to yell at her for being a part of what's happening at God's Promise.

Sara Michelle Fetters: I think we would be remise if we don't briefly touch on the fact that even though this movie's set in 1993 it could still be happening right now, especially when you consider what we're hearing from our own government, the changes that they want to make and the fact that we have a vice president that thinks gay conversion therapy is just fine.

Desiree Akhavan: Yeah. I didn't realize when I first started adapting the book that it would be relevant. A lot of conversations that Julie and I had early on while we were pitching this was how we were going to sell this as a film that will still be applicable to people's lives now. Unfortunately, while we were making it, it became disturbingly relevant. Also, while we were researching I met with survivors of gay conversion therapy and I realized that this was still a modern problem. Even before the Presidential election, it was a really strange thing to realize that what you thought was totally a problem of the past was in reality anything but.

Sara Michelle Fetters: Yeah. This movie is set 25 years ago and it's only recently states have been banning the practice of gay conversion therapy.

Desiree Akhavan: Totally! And it's still legal in most states!

Sara Michelle Fetters: With that in mind, what do you hope people take away from this film and this story?

Desiree Akhavan: I think most people who watch the film are already going to be disturbed by gay conversion therapy. Most people I talk to weren't surprised it even still exists. I'm not naïve enough to believe that advocates for the practice are going to be attracted to seeing my super liberal movie. It would be lovely if they did. Who knows? Maybe there's closet Chloë Grace Moretz fans in the ultra-conservative evangelical world. [laughs]

But I made this film to make people feel less alone. I'm not into propaganda filming. That's not my thing.

Sara Michelle Fetters: And for you? What do you hope to do next? Where do you go from here?

Desiree Akhavan: I'd like to be making films with a wide reach, films that touch a mainstream audience that aren't relegated to niche queer corners of the multiplex. I want to make a big film that touches people's lives that's for the people who need it right at that particular moment. I didn't grow up watching art house films, I grew up in the multiplex watching whatever was available to me and that my dad was willing to go see. I'd really like to make a big film, but it would still have to maintain my politics and my work. I want to make a film that aligns with my morals but that's also gigantic and entertaining and just as fun as anything else out there. That's what I want to do. That's what I hope to do.


Atmospheric Our House built on interesting characters and frustrating genre clichés
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

OUR HOUSE
Now playing


After his parents die in an auto accident, brilliant electronics student Ethan Lightman (Thomas Mann) puts college on hold to become the adult caregiver to younger siblings Matt (Percy Hynes White) and Becca (Kate Moyer). While making sure the day-to-day drudgery of everyday life, like doing homework and taking out the trash, is accomplished , Ethan still feels compelled to continue research into a machine he hopes will revolutionize how people power their homes. But instead of working as designed, turns out his invention is far more powerful in a way he could never have anticipated. Somehow, this device has paranormal abilities, and soon the spirits of the trio's dead parents are apparently attempting to interact with them from beyond the grave.

Based on the 2010 film Ghost from the Machine, writer Nathan Parker (Moon) and director Anthony Scott Burns' Our House is a slick reinvention of filmmaker Matt Osterman's indie shocker that makes up in visceral intensity and emotional nuance what it lacks in originality. It's a fast-paced, character-driven thriller that, while not nearly as scary as it could have been, managed to grab hold of my attention fairly easily. I was intrigued as to how Ethan and his siblings were going to solve this supernatural mystery, and while the answers weren't surprising they were still just good enough to keep me pleasantly satisfied for the majority of the film's brief 91-minute running time.

I honestly liked how mundane much of the first half of the film is. Ethan is forced to become an adult far sooner than he thought he was going to have to, putting his own dreams on hold in order to take care of his brother and sister. In turn, Matt and Becca aren't always sure how to relate to him. Is he still their brother? Is he their new parental guardian? All three are forced to figure things out as they go along, hitting a variety of roadblocks along the way as they also attempt to process their grief. All of this gives the film a heartfelt human element that I found crushingly effective, this emphasis on the relationship between all of the Lightman kids allowing the more suspenseful aspects of the story to have an extra unsettling kick they otherwise wouldn't have had.

What doesn't work is the film's final 15 minutes. It's not exactly a shock to discover the spirits conjured up by Ethan's machine aren't all benevolent. It's equally obvious that at least a few of the ghosts whispering silently to Matt and particularly to Becca might not always have their best interests at heart. When things go crazy the answer to the supernatural riddle vexing the Lightman clan is pretty easy to solve, even with odd Insidious meets The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo twists concerning their home's troubled history which happens to include an unsolved mystery involving a missing girl and some rather convenient extra square footage in the basement that wasn't in the original building plans. It's standard stuff, and Burns has trouble doing much that's all that unique or unexpected with any of it, and as such tension and suspense are diluted quite significantly.

Even with this being the case, I enjoyed Our House. As I've already stated, I couldn't help but respond to the film's emphasis on the emotional interactions of the three siblings. There is a realistic, lived-in complexity to their dynamic that augments the inherent drama of their situation, and because of this I genuinely cared whether or not they were going to survive. Burns, working as his own cinematographer, shoots things with a naturalistic simplicity that's striking, the use of natural light adding a layer of mystery that likely wouldn't have existed otherwise.

As far as performances go, Mann is in full Me and Earl and the Dying Girl mode with a dash of the flippant uncertainty of his Kong: Skull Island helicopter pilot thrown in for good measure. Some will find that combination of character traits to sound intriguing while others will likely want to run screaming in the opposite direction of whichever theatre this film happens to be showing in. As I liked Mann's performances in both those efforts I thought he was just fine here as well, and even if the actor isn't noticeably challenging himself I still think he anchors the major dramatic moments with a determined confidence that felt unforced and natural. White and Mayer are also good, the former in particular, while Robert B. Kennedy is suitably unnerving as the Lightmans' next door neighbor who has suffered his own recent tragedy, a misfortune that will revisit him thanks to Ethan's little invention.

I can't help but wish that Parker and Burns had spent as much time on the paranormal aspects of this tale as they did the familial ones, and as strong as the latter aspects might be the unexceptional routine inevitability of what is going to happen to the Lightmans does get frustrating at a certain point. The lack of tension, no matter how technically proficient the film on the whole might prove to be, is a major stumbling block, as is the throwaway role as Ethan's questioning girlfriend, rising star Nicola Pelz, is tasked with portraying, all of which makes it hard for me to recommend this one, even to genre fanatics, with anything close to enthusiasm.

But I still enjoyed Our House, all of those various issues notwithstanding. It has heart. It has notable style. It puts its characters first and worries more about their development than it does the central complexities and machinations of its ghost-spawning sci-fi MacGuffin. Burns showcases raw, imaginative talent behind the camera and Parker, much like he did with Moon, composes characters for a relatively benign and intellectually unthreatening genre programmer and makes them more emotionally complex than initially meets the eye. Even with all its faults I still liked this movie enough that I'd happily watch it again, the Lightman family's paranormal exploits just interesting enough to make going to a matinee screening or renting it via VOD moderately worthwhile.


Incomprehensible Slender Man a supernatural missed opportunity
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

SLENDER MAN
Now playing


Four Massachusetts teenage girls, Hallie (Julia Goldani Telles), Wren (Joey King), Chloe (Jaz Sinclair) and Katie (Annalise Basso), get together for a night of clandestine drinking while talking about boys, school and their future plans. Bored, they overheard a rumor earlier in the day that their guy friends were going to get together later this evening in order to summon the mysterious Slender Man. Deciding to investigate this urban legend for themselves, they stumble upon an Internet site that claims to have posted the ritual that will allow curious youngsters to contact this ethereal supernatural being.

They perform the ceremony thinking that doing so will only be a harmless bit of spooky fun, never considering that Slender Man might be real. But after Katie mysteriously disappears into the woods during a school outing it begins to appear that this urban legend might not be so fictional after all. Soon each of the girls is experiencing various forms of psychological trauma spurred on by visions of an obscenely tall faceless man dressed in a three-piece suit with squid-like arms outstretched to embrace them. With Chloe's sanity hanging by a thread and Wren madly researching Slender Man's origins in hopes of stopping him from stalking her or her friends, Hallie isn't as quick to believe what's happening isn't just some fanciful flight of their combined terrified imaginations.

Based on a creature and a mythology dreamt up by Eric Knudsen in 2009, Slender Man is as gigantic a missed opportunity as anything I've seen in ages. Director Sylvain White (Stomp the Yard, The Losers) and writer David Birke (Elle, 13 Sins) have crafted a motion picture that's never as interesting as it wants to be and does a poor job of maintaining tension and suspense throughout the majority of its 93-minute running time. While the opening half hour introducing the four main characters and setting up the supernatural scenario is solid, the film grows to be less and less interesting as it goes along. The midsection is particularly ponderous, while the climax is a mishmash of unfinished ideas and incoherent storytelling that left a bad taste in my mouth. It doesn't work, and what should have been an unsettling journey into the petrifying unknown instead becomes a tedious exercise in genre futility the less said about the better.

In all fairness, there are reports that White and the studio didn't see eye-to-eye in regards to the finished film, and there are moments where it feels as if this one had been edited together with a jackhammer and not with any sort of eye for detail. This is especially true during the last third, the climactic showdown seeming to come out of nowhere, while an entire subplot devoted to Hallie's younger sister Katie (Annalise Basso) doesn't make a lick of narrative sense. Wren, who in many ways is the one driving the plot forward as the only person who seems to realize the girls needed to start fighting back against Slender Man right from the get-go, remains a frustrating enigma, making choices for inane reasons that are maddening in their grotesque stupidity. As for the ending, it's nothing more than fog-drenched visual misdirection coupled with some eerie sounds of the outdoors that all add up to zero, and even a creepy image of the titular demon embracing his chosen prey wasn't enough to set my pulse racing beyond what would be construed as normal.

I don't get the online video that assists the girls in their summoning of Slender Man. It's as if White and Birke had recently watched Gore Verbinski's 2002 version of The Ring and thought to themselves the one thing their film was missing was a retro bag of creepy visual weirdness so they threw some in just for the heck of it. They also can't seem to get a firm grasp on who or what their titular character is, almost as if they like the idea of Knudsen's creation even if they never had the first clue as to how to effectively utilize him. While I liked the allusions to H.P. Lovecraft, this supernatural boogeyman is still too ephemeral to be threatening, the few scares that are generated due more to Luca Del Puppo's (Emelie) cinematography, Jeremy Woodward's (Thoroughbreds) production design and Brandon Campbell (The Thinning) and Ramin Djawadi's (Iron Man) effectively discombobulating score than they are because of anything character-driven or emotionally substantive.

Rising star Telles, known for her work on television appearing in 'Bunheads' and 'The Affair,' does her best to turn in a complex performance, and for a little while I thought she was going to give viewers a reason to watch this misfire all on her own. But while she does far more for the film than it in turn does for her, after the opening act Hallie's refusal to take seriously the paranormal undertones of what is going on becomes more than a little silly. Still, Telles gives it her best shot, and her emotional commitment to her character is undeniably laudable.

I honestly can't say I hated Slender Man. It is well cast and, as already mentioned, is really well shot by Del Puppo. But the inherent creepiness of the titular character never resonates and as such there are precious few scares. Even if this isn't the film White and Birke set out to make I'm still at a loss to figure out what the pair could have done differently in order to make their horror entry even moderately worthwhile. This is nothing more than a forgettable disappointment, Knudsen's creation deserving of a better cinematic debut than this sadly turns out to be.


Devil's Doorway a darkly unnerving crisis of faith
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE DEVIL'S DOORWAY
Now streaming on-demand


In 1960 Father Thomas Riley (Lalor Roddy) and Father John Thornton (Ciaran Flynn) were sent by the Vatican to investigate and document strange goings on at a Magdalene Laundry in Ireland. The Mother Superior (Helena Bereen) in charge of this home for so-called 'fallen women' (i.e., young women and girls who are both single and pregnant) is immediately dismissive of the two men who have entered her dominion and is positive they will not discover anything of interest. Yet both show remarkable persistence to try and learn why so many strange and horrifying things keep happening at the laundry, in the process uncovering a terrifying secret that will lead each of them to question the very fabric of the faith they purport to hold so dear.

Newcomer Aislinn Clarke's confident and sinister debut feature The Devil's Doorway is a clever twist on the 'found footage' subgenre of horror films, her movie more concerned with her three principal characters and their twisting moral ambiguities than it is with unleashing a bunch of nonsensical cheap scares. Not that the movie isn't thrilling, the director doing a fine job of delivering the requisite bits of misdirection and visual subterfuge audiences have come to expect from titles like As Above So Below, Paranormal Activity, and The Taking of Deborah Logan that are similar to this one. But Clarke is more concerned with questions of faith, masculinity, and female empowerment than with anything else, and as such her nifty little low-budget shocker digs under the skin in a way that's far more unsettling than any of the jump scares that are liberally littered throughout her freshman offering.

There is something intriguing about the setup to this story. Father Riley and Father Thornton initially aren't at this Magdalene Laundry to investigate any sort of reported wrongdoing. Instead, it's a miracle they've been asked to chronicle, the statues of the Virgin Mary inexplicably crying tears of blood for no apparent reason. It's not until they've begun their task, interviewed the Mother Superior, and spoken with a few of the various girls and nuns in the laundry that they start to suspect there's something even more unnatural taking place. Once the visions of ghostly children playing ominous games of hide-and-seek begin, all bets are off, especially when they end up leading the two men to a pregnant young woman seemingly imprisoned in the bowels of the laundry.

Clarke allows her film to take its time, the conversations between the two priests covering a massive amount of territory and, in the process, delicately revealing various character complexities giving each man additional layers of depth. As for the Mother Superior, it's obvious she's not exactly the paragon of virtue and pious faithfulness one hopes a woman who has devoted her life to serving the tenants of her professed religion would be. Yet there is something about the way in which Clarke and her co-writers Martin Brennan and Michael B. Jackson have constructed the character that is uncomfortably fascinating, and it's clear the director doesn't want this nun to come off as merely a second-rate Nurse Ratched.

The overall excellence of the core trio of actors goes a long way toward helping the director keep her focus on the characters and their journey, rather than any pointless sequences of shock and awe. Bereen has a focused intensity that had me on pins and needles whenever she was a part of a scene, while Flynn's instinctive introspection allows the inquisitive Father Thornton to be a nice counterpoint to Father Riley's grizzled, world-weary indifference to the job the pair have been sent out to accomplish. But it is Roddy as that latter character who is the reason this movie ends up having such an affecting emotional core. His faith-fueled battle, especially as he takes in the various human, non-supernatural horrors of what is happening inside the Magdalene Laundry, has a knowingly withered complexity that's deeply compelling. Roddy is excellent, the Grabbers and 'Game of Thrones' actor delivering a transformative performance that I couldn't help but respond to favorably.

Things do eventually follow genre convention, right down to the pair of Fathers having to climb through fissures in the earth into darkened catacombs where claustrophobic fear-induced paranoia is par for the course, but not before an unforeseen twist into The Exorcist territory with that discovery of the pregnant girl in the laundry's basement. A lot of this is pretty standard stuff, and Clarke doesn't veer too far off of a relatively familiar path. Still, Lauren Coe delivers a suitably creepy performance as the cellar-dwelling mystery girl, while an important scene involving Roddy and Bereen dealing directly with her and why she is being confined crackles with sinister electricity.

It all culminates as expected, and I can't say Clarke manages to maintain tension and suspense for all of her debut's brief 77 minutes. But it isn't like the stuff in those underground catacombs fails to startle, and I really do like the fact that this film is more about characters dealing with a crisis of faith, and how organized religion tends to minimize women to the point their innate human rights are systematically erased, than it is anything else. The Devil's Doorway is a thought-provoking descent into spiritual madness and mayhem, and I can't wait to see what the talented Clarke might have hiding in the deviously dark corners of her imagination next.


Delicately intimate Cameron Post a stunning teenage character study
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST
Now playing


When she's discovered making out with a female classmate in a car, Cameron Post (Chloë Grace Moretz) is understandably mortified. Nonetheless, she's somewhat surprised when her conservative, religious-minded guardians send her off to be a 'disciple' at a church-run gay conversion camp to be cured of her same-sex attractions. But at least initially she's willing to give Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr.) and camp director Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle) the benefit of the doubt that they might know what they're doing, Cameron quickly realizes they're clearly making these supposed faith-based therapeutic procedures up as she goes along. Making friends with fellow disciples Jane (Sasha Lane) and Adam (Forrest Goodluck), she determines that the only course of action is to remain true to her core beliefs and not give in to the psychological abuse this camp, whether unintentionally or on purpose, is inflicting upon her and the other kids residing there, learning more about what she wants from life on the whole in the process.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is sensational. Based on the novel by Emily M. Danforth, writer/director Desiree Akhavan (Appropriate Behaviour) and co-screenwriter Cecilia Frugiuele have composed a pitch-perfect coming of age tale that oozes empathy and compassion yet still does not shy away from the underlying darkness this collection of gay, lesbian and gender queer teens are being forced to deal with. Yet there is a marvelous depth, an underlying layer of benevolence that permeates this story right to its core, Akhavan bringing everything to life with an effortless grace that never feels heavy-handed or didactic.

Set in 1993, this story might as well be happening right now. The parallels are so obvious they hardly need to be stated out loud. But Akhavan refuses to play up these similarities, instead keeping the focus squarely on Cameron and her journey. She is the one who has to figure out what she wants, the one who must determine which path she is going to walk down and which one she'd rather avoid. Cameron is a teenager dealing with teenage problems and all the baggage that goes along with that, and that's all on top of coming to grips with the fact she's attracted to girls instead of boys and a bunch of oblivious adults for some reason feel the need to change that about her.

Moretz has never been better, the Let Me In and Kick-Ass actress delivering a gorgeously understated turn filled with observational nuance. I love the way Cameron always seems to be processing things, how she truly believes, at least early on, that the adults her guardians have chosen to surround her with do have her best interest at heart. Moretz begins to showcase the cracks in this façade slowly and with deliberate gravitas yet at the same time doesn't shed the accepting demeanor that has allowed her to size up people with unvarnished honesty. She cares for everyone she comes in contact with, even those who do not end up having her best interests at heart, the actress making all of this come to life with minimal body movements and only the subtlest of facial expressions.

No more is this apparent than in a breathtaking scene between Moretz and Gallagher that takes place in Cameron's dorm room not too long after a terrifying tragedy rocks the camp. Rick is trying to explain to his young charge what it is they are feeling, how important it is they process their emotions together and not succumb to temptation. But the reality is that he's struggling to process what has happened just as much as anyone, and as she's sitting there watching him the truth of what is going on hits Cameron with horrified, if still nonplussed, surprise. Moretz and Gallagher are in perfect sync, each playing off the other nicely. What's most significant is that, as shattering as this realization turns out to be, Cameron still takes the time to show Rick a form of tender compassion that none of the adults, for all their proclamations of looking out for the teenager's better interests, have ever shown her. It's breathtaking stuff, this scene the kind of moment I'm going to be happily pondering for the remainder of the year.

But that's this movie in a nutshell. While the bigger picture is always important, the fact Akhavan and Frugiuele spend so much time dwelling on the quieter and more interior machinations of their story's inner workings is why it ends up having the gigantic emotional impact it ultimately does. Watching Moretz, Lane and Goodluck hangout, talking about nothing, even though everything of importance is being said, is the crux around which so much of this film's drama is built upon. It all reminded me of my immediate reaction to watching Stephen Chbosky's magnificent 2012 adaptation of his own novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower for the first time, and it's safe to say Akhavan's effort will likely have the same sort of lasting impact and resonating staying power that one has proven to have.

There's a point where it's possible to say too much and I don't want to do that. The simple truth is that there is more happening inside of The Miseducation of Cameron Post than initially meets the eye, its ability to tackle so many varying thematic ideas with such appealingly awkward élan close to incredible. While changes have been made to Danforth's original prose, the core of the story is every bit as powerful and as authentic here as it ever was in the source material. Akhavan has delivered one of the best films I'll see in 2018, and I have a sneaking suspicion this is one teenage drama I'm going to be waxing poetic about for many years to come.


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