The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Boy Erased

20/01/21

Netflix

An eighteen year old boy thinks he might be gay.

When his father, a baptist minister, learns of it, he has his son unceremoniously deposited in a ‘school’ for conversion therapy. Here, the boy is subjected to a daily diet of verbal abuse, bullying and indoctrination. This may sound like the plot of some sinister dystopian novel, but Boy Erased is based upon the real life experiences of Garrard Conley, who underwent just such an ordeal in the early 2000s. The film bears comparison with The Miseducation of Cameron Post, starring Chloe Grace Moretz, which related a similarly distressing tale.

In this version of Conley’s story, Garrard is Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges), hiding his sexuality from his domineering father, Marshall (Russell Crowe), and his protective mother, Nancy (Nicole Kidman). But Marshall begins to have suspicions about his son when the boy’s relationship with a local girl fizzles out and, when Jared returns unexpectedly from college after being raped by one of his classmates, the truth soon emerges.

Jared finds his day-to-day life handed over to the harsh ministrations of Chief Therapist at ‘Love in Action,’ Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton, who also directed the film, based on Conley’s memoir). Jared doesn’t protest his harsh treatment – on the contrary, he tries his best to fit in at the school, where he’s surrounded by a whole collection of other characters receiving ‘therapy’. Some of the inmates accept the religious hogwash they are being fed and do their best to change their ways – and then there are those, like Anders (Devin Michael), who have learned to play the system and convince their teachers that they are actually ‘making progress.’

To give the film its due, it’s nicely nuanced. Crowe’s character, for instance, isn’t the stereotyped tub-thumper he could so easily have been, but is shown to be a loving father, struggling with the tenets of a religion in which he truly believes, and one that he has devoted most of his life to teaching. And Kidman’s Nancy – another in a whole series of chameleonic screen characters – is perhaps the film’s strongest suit, the scenes between mother and son having particular resonance. When Nancy finally decides to stand up for Jared’s rights, it’s a moment to be celebrated.

While it may seem incredible that such institutions can be allowed to exist in the modern age, the truth is that they can and do – I have recently heard testimony to the existence of just such a place in the UK – and Boy Erased makes a compelling argument for their total eradication.

A harrowing tale, but one worth telling.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

The Miseducation of Cameron Post

 

11/09/18

Based on Emily M Danforth’s 2012 novel, The Miseducation of Cameron Post is the perfect teen movie for our times. Sure, it’s set in 1993, but it feels particularly prescient. On the one hand, society has become far more ‘woke’ about sexuality, with same-sex marriage widely accepted, for example; on the other, extremism is on the rise, and hard-won rights are being challenged once again. This film is a timely reminder of what we stand to lose.

It’s much more than that, of course. It’s also a heart-warming, heart-breaking coming-of-age tale, with a troubled teenager as its protagonist. Chloë Grace Moretz is the titular Cameron Post, an orphan raised by her evangelical Aunt Ruth (Kerry Butler). Ruth is a kindly woman, and she and Cameron are close. But when Cameron is discovered having sex with her best – female – friend, Coley (Quinn Shephard), she’s packed off to God’s Promise, a gay-aversion camp-cum-boarding-school, deep in the heart of Nowhere, Montana, where, it is hoped, she will learn to recognise her homosexuality for the heinous sin the church believes it is.

The camp is as bonkers as it sounds: whoever thought that bringing all the gay kids together and isolating them with same-sex room-mates would help them to avoid temptation? It’s all tragically well-meant: the leaders, Dr Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle) and her brother, Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr) truly believe they are saving souls. The reverend himself is ex-gay, he says; he understands the teens’ troubles. Dr Lydia isn’t quite as compassionate, taking a cruel-to-be-kind approach, completely unaware of how tone-deaf she really is. “You have no idea what you’re doing, do you?” realises Cameron, in despair. “You’re making it up as you go along.”

Moretz is delightful in this role, all understated rebellion and silent agony. We never really know, until the end, if she will submit to the camp’s teachings, because she’s so uncommunicative and unsure. She doesn’t want to let people down; she doesn’t want to hate herself. But she can’t be someone other than who she really is. Being gay hurts her – isolates her from those she loves; it’s not easy for her to fathom what she ought to do. She gravitates instinctively though towards the cynical among her peers, Jane ‘Fonda’ (Sasha Lane) and Adam (Forrest Goodluck), with whom she smokes dope (smuggled in via Jane’s prosthetic leg) and mocks some of the nonsense they are made to spout. She finds real friendship here, and strength, and it’s a good thing she does. Because the camp is actually rather dangerous: the psychological damage might be inadvertently inflicted, but it’s just as ruinous as if it were intentional.

But these are sassy teens, with much spirit to spare, and even the sly manipulation of Dr Lydia (brilliantly conveyed by Jennifer Ehle) can’t suppress them forever. They’re bold and lively and they’re going to take on the world.

Bravo!

4.2 stars

Susan Singfield