18 years ago, But I’m A Cheerleader landed an NC-17 rating by satirizing the horrors of conversion therapy (re-edited to get an R-rating). Drenched in baby blues and Barbie pinks, Jamie Babbit’s debut film was soaked in the camp sensibilities of gay culture, exploding the gender essentialism of both the gay community and the religious right. Natasha Lyonne plays a femme cheerleader who hasn’t even fully realized her true sexuality before her parents worry about her encroaching lesbianism and send her to a camp to make her a full-fledged heterosexual…which hilariously backfires.
As Cheerleader finally reaches adulthood, of course we need a new version of the anti-conversion therapy movie. After all, we haven’t yet banned gay conversion therapy despite the alarming number of suicides left in its wake. Hell, even South Park did an episode on the camps. This year, I saw no less than 5 short films criticizing gay conversion therapy; the topic is on everybody’s mind as Mike Pence, who has signed bills legalizing discrimination and once had a website that dog whistled support for gay conversion therapy, is in the White House. Obviously, we need reminders that gay conversion therapy is damaging to psyches without actually working.
Desiree Akhavan (Appropriate Behavior) picks up the slack with her adaptation of Emily C. Danforth’s debut novel, The Miseducation of Cameron Post. Shaking away the camp satire of Cheerleader, Ms. Akhavan goes full on John Green teen emo with her story of a girl forced into conversion therapy camp and finds solace in her own band of misfits. Though Post is periodically dryly and grimly humorous, Ms. Akhavan channels the force needed to resist emotional and mental brainwashing meant to instill self-hatred and disgust into your soul.
One night in 1993, Cameron Post (Chloe Grace Moretz) is caught making out with the Prom Queen in the back seat of a car. Her parents, aghast at the sexual deviancy on display, sends her to God’s Promise to pray away the gay. There, she connects with a band of rebels who refuse to go along to get along. Jane Fonda (Sasha Lane, American Honey) and Adam Red Eagle (Forrest Goodluck, The Revenant) are outsiders to the group by both heritage and their need to resist the brainwashing to stay true to their authentic selves.
Veering away from the sheer morbidity of South Park and the camp silliness of Cheerleader, Post walks a strange line of being aligned with the teenagers’ emotional sensibilities and their defenses. The terrorism of the situation, surrounded by suicide and loneliness, is sidelined for a movie about emotional self-defense and what kinds of fortitude it takes to survive a camp like this. If you’re looking for a searing damnation of conversion therapy, this isn’t it. This is about the survivors; the gay children who are forced into situations they didn’t deserve.
To that end, Ms. Akhavan has constructed an amazing semblance of a YA novel with romanticized heightened emotions as shallow as some of them might be. This is a polished piece of mainstream filmmaking that never forgets its indebted nature to films like The Fault in Our Stars. Ms. Moretz, Ms. Lane, and Mr. Goodluck shine in their respective roles, creating complex teenagers fighting their way through a system while straining to keep hold of their selves.
Though I miss the obviously queer campy humor of But I’m A Cheerleader, I realize The Miseducation of Cameron Post isn’t made for me. It’s made for modern teenagers, and it shines as an example of the mainstream queer cinema that is finally being released in multiplexes alongside the heterosexual fare.