Welcome to God’s Promise, a Christian conversion camp, where campers are known as disciples and self-hatred is not only encouraged, but absolutely required. Set in 1993, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, is a story about sixteen-year old Cameron Post (Chloe Grace Moretz) who is sent away to a conversion camp after her boyfriend catches her having sex with another girl. In a camp full of outcasts searching for inclusion, Cameron manages to forge a friendship with Jane (Sasha Lane) and Adam (Forrest Goodluck), fellow camp disciples who are skeptical of the conversion therapy. Based on the 2012 novel by Emily M. Danforth, Desiree Akhavan writes and directs this adaption. Akvan’s unique style artfully conveys the isolation of coming to terms with one’s self while seeking companionship in an unfriendly society.
90’s music punctuates poignant moments in the Cameron’s development. Hoping to bring some comforts from home to the camp, her Breeders cassette is confiscated. The cassette later reappears when she gets the urge to shoplift it from a store, but is quickly shamed by her roommate Erin (Emily Skeggs), an overachieving disciple who desperately wants to be “cured.” Erin works out constantly to a Blessercize video in the hopes of distracting herself from her desires. It is at this moment where Cameron realizes how alone she is at the camp that she gets closer to Jane and Adam. Four Non-Blondes play in the kitchen as they are preparing lunch, encouraged by Jane and Adam, Cameron’s quiet defensive wall comes down as she jumps on the counter and wails along to the lyrics “What’s Up?” The song encourages even the most devout disciples to join in the fun, shattering each character’s loneliness.
This is not the last time a character sings. Helen is a fellow camper, who like the others, has been indoctrinated to believe her sexuality comes from a place of hatred and sin. She comes to the realization she only loved her ex-girlfriend because she envied her singing voice. We see Helen (Melanie Erlich) perform a heartfelt version of Celine Dion’s “Where Does My Heart Beat Now”. The camera focuses on Cameron, Jane, and Adam as the lyrics “where do all the lonely hearts go” as they stand off to the side, giving their sadness a soundtrack.
The use of darkness is a recurring theme throughout the film. The disciples attend a concert with typical concert lighting. In the glow from the stage, various disciples are seen ardently rocking out as they are singing along to the Christian band Wild Yawp. Cameron, Jane, and Adam laugh to themselves in mockery of their fellow campers, but soon their expressions become wistful in the dim light, giving the sense that they too long to be part of a shared experience. In one of the most emotional scenes, Moretz gives a stellar emotional performance, Cameron retreats to the privacy of a cupboard under a counter to call home. It is in the shadows of the cupboard that Cameron learns she is not welcome at home, highlighting the sense of not belonging anywhere.
Showing the desperation and futility of their situation, Akvan delivers a powerful film that holds up a mirror to the pain of not being understood or seen. Strong performances and artistic choices paint a picture of nonconformity and isolation as the characters struggle with falling in line or being true to themselves. The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a coming of age film that focuses on individual struggle and shows that freedom is more important than acceptance.