The common theme of every young adult novel or film, the big issue beyond witchcraft or postapocalyptic chaos or serious illness or romance, is basic: How are things going to sort themselves out? What in this strange and confusing world is going to happen next? “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” makes very good drama of that confusion in terms of life, family, religion, relationships and sexuality.
Dealing with those persistent mysteries is a recipe for anxiety under any circumstances. Told through the perspective of a hormonal girl in a community that disapproves of her desires, it’s like explosives in the head and heart.
Chloë Grace Moretz shines as Cameron, a high school track athlete who can’t quite outrun her self-doubt. She has a much happier time dancing with the prom queen than enduring the commonplace guy who pinned the corsage on her dress, but she still has many unanswered questions about who she is. But what junior doesn’t?
Holding hands, Cameron and the other girl disappear to the parking lot, where they kiss, passionately grope and are discovered, to the agonized embarrassment of all.
Because the film is set in 1993, the locale is small-town middle America and the orphaned Cameron’s guardians are fundamentalist Christians, she is directly shipped off to God’s Promise, a gay conversion school designed to “cure” her. The curriculum includes “Blessercize” workouts and the spectacular shaming lectures of Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle), a cold, formal perfectionist who could drive Nurse Ratched to tears.
Her new classmates are a watchable, emotionally diverse island of lost boys and girls. Some feel guilty and conflicted for veering from the common path; others are proud black sheep with no interest in changing anything about themselves. Director/co-writer Desiree Akhavan keeps our eye on Cameron as she cautiously finds her way among them, cautious about what she expresses. She is no pushover, but she is a sexually evolving child.
Moretz underplays the role, building the character from the ground up and giving nothing away too fast. That gives us time to appreciate the auxiliary characters.
Especially good is Emily Skeggs as Cameron’s roommate, who is happy to pray away the gay and more than anything wants to convert Cameron to supporting her beloved Minnesota Vikings. The issue first feels irrelevant, but it’s the setup for a worth-the-price-of-admission blast of comic relief involving a Norse helmet.
Oddly for a film about a runner, “Miseducation” stumbles on its slow pacing. And like the widely criticized climax of Emily M. Danforth’s novel from which it is adapted, the finale plays like a transition to a new chapter that never arrives.
There’s much to admire here, and a good deal that would benefit from polishing.