How does one write satire, especially about a dark part of society that still continues to haunt its victims long after they escape it? There is the obvious route of writing a big, bombastic comedy that is distant from the darkness of the topic so as not to bring up painful memories. This can be great for showing the ridiculousness of a horrifying system in a way that is approachable to an audience. However, there is something to be said about a drama that takes its premise seriously but includes frequent jabs at harmful people.
‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post’, based on the young adult novel of the same name, is at first glance a drama about the friendships formed in harsh situations. Cameron is a teenage girl caught sleeping with another girl. Her parents send her off to a gay conversion camp in the hopes of turning her straight. She meets a wide array of colourful characters and befriends Jane and Adam, who secretly break the rules of the camp by growing weed in the woods under the guise of ‘going on a hike’. These friendships allow Cameron to open up to a point when she can voice her scepticism of the camp aloud. However, no matter how much she questions the camp’s leadership, she is still stuck there.
With a premise like gay conversion therapy, which has been linked to increased suicidal ideation in its participants according to the American Psychological Association, you’d think that comedy would be nigh impossible. The film ‘But I’m a Cheerleader’ managed to reap comedy out of the ridiculousness of putting a bunch of gay people in the same camp and expecting them to no longer be interested in each other, but it rarely touched upon the darkest aspects of its premise. ‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post’ on the other hand, does explore some of those darker themes. So how exactly could this film make a cinema full of LGBTI people and their allies laugh with the frequency and at times intensity of the average comedy?
A large part of this is the acting. Chloë Grace Mortetz portrays Cameron with both shy teenage awkwardness and an equally teenage suspicion that everything adults tell her is utter nonsense. This not only makes her relatable but also allows for multiple scenes of biting satire in which a homophobic camp counsellor makes a ridiculous claim and Cameron’s face barely hides how ridiculous she finds this. Sasha Lane also gives Jane a sardonic wit in the way she smirks and Forrest Goodluck as Adam achieves the same thing but with added sympathy towards his character’s interesting plight.
These comedic elements don’t just poke fun at gay conversion therapy camps but also allow the audience to appreciate the more dramatic moments. This film could have easily been a completely depressing story about the harsh world of conversion therapy but then those dramatic moments wouldn’t have stood out. It’s only with a mix of comedy and drama that the turning point towards the end of the film is able to deliver a punch to the audience’s collective gut.
The filmmaking is gorgeous and the 90s music fits the time period perfectly. The combination of filmmaking and music also makes for a great montage at the beginning of the film. The decision to disperse Cameron’s backstory through different points of the film adds an interesting mystery to the film. The motif of the iceberg as a metaphor for the stereotypical ‘underlying causes’ of homosexuality works as a great set up for the ending of the film, which uses that motif in a powerful and heartwarming scene.
However, there is a large issue with this film in how plotless a lot of it is. Scenes meander for too long and I found myself wondering when the film was going to get to the next plot point. While this works for some of the comedic scenes by adding awkwardness between the characters, do I really need to see the characters go to karaoke? Some of the scenes really should have been edited out to make for a tighter pace. This slow pace also makes the trio of friends’ decision towards the end of the film feel too late. Their journey after making that decision could have made for a movie by itself and would have given the film a stronger storyline. I was never bored but at times I was on the edge of boredom.
I also wish the girl Cameron was caught sleeping with got more onscreen development. We get told she’s perfect, but we don’t really get shown it. It makes Cameron’s feelings for her seem almost shallow, which is clearly not what the film intended. Maybe instead of multiple flashbacks of them lying down together and being lovey-dovey we could have seen their interactions before becoming a couple. However, I am glad that their romance took a backseat to Cameron’s friendships at the camp, as stories about friendship are refreshing in a media landscape saturated with love stories.
‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post’ is a touching and surprisingly funny film that takes society to task for its homophobia while also showing the bonds that can be formed in bleak situations. The acting, dialogue and cinematography are stellar. If the pacing was tighter and the plot more structured, this could have been a must-see. However, this is still a highly recommended watch for anyone interested in a good mix of drama and comedy, and a great film to recommend to anyone who still holds anti-LGBTI beliefs.
‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post’ is to be released in Australian cinemas on September 6.