@Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 7 Sep 2018

As LGBTQ stories have finally made their way out of the cinematic niche and into the mainstream, more coming-of-age films are appearing that deal with the first rushes of love and its impact from a gay perspective.  The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a fine entry into this new canon; a feisty and compassionate drama that takes a firm moral stance but refuses to demonise its antagonists.

After being caught in the backseat of a car with another girl, Cameron (Chloë  Grace Moretz) her devout aunt sends her to God’s Promise, a gay conversion therapy centre run by Rick (John Gallagher Jr.) and his sister, the icy Dr. Marsh (Jennifer Ehle).  There she attempts to come to terms with her new surroundings, deal with the dubious methods of the centre, and bonds with her fellow students.

It’s like a John Hughes movie crossed with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but although Dr. Marsh has the same blandly sinister cruelty of Nurse Ratched, Cameron is no rabble-rousing Randall P. McMurphy.  Instead, in Moretz’s controlled and mature performance, she’s a sceptical, watchful protagonist who is still finding her way in the world and who prefers to keep her counsel.  Refreshingly, her sexuality doesn’t appear to be the thing with which she’s struggling.  Instead, it’s her faith and the loss of her parents, which is never explored but, to steal the metaphor so beloved of the councillors, undoubtedly is the mass of the iceberg beneath Cameron’s wary exterior.

The film excels in the interactions between Cameron and her fellow pupils, particularly the droll pairing of Adam Red Eagle (Forrest Goodluck) and Jane Fonda (American Honey’s Sasha Lane).  It is this pairing that offer the openness and most of the frequent moments of joy in the film, with an impromptu singalong to 4 Non Blondes’ ‘What’s Up?’ being a standout sequence.  There is however the occasional fall-back on a fat friend being a lazy comic foil, particularly jarring given the otherwise solidly progressive stance of the movie.

Akhavan is careful not to dismiss faith in general, and while there are scenes of the students enjoying turgid Christian Rock bad enough to cringe your face inside out, there is no mockery for those pupils who believe.  Similarly, there is endless empathy shown for Rick, who has allegedly been cured of his own same sex attractions through these very methods, yet who is clearly a lost and conflicted soul.

While occasionally inconsistent in its storytelling – for a rigid, oppressive place, the students have a surprising amount of freedom – and perhaps too easily resolved, The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a deeply compassionate story about growing up and the extra confusion caused when religion and sexuality are thrown into the mix.  It’s full of wit and hope and could well become a touchstone young adult film for a new generation.  It’s frank, funny, filled with rich characters, and deserves the widest possible audience.