Homosexuality isn’t a sin; it’s something that doesn’t exist at all. At least that’s the threadbare philosophy preached by God’s Promise, a gay-conversion camp nestled among the pristine pines of Miles City, Montana. Half-inspired by unverified psychobabble, the other half stripped from loopholed Christian sacraments, the anti-gay staff of God’s Promise is forthright in their conviction to demolish any unwelcome closets where their same sex-leaning teens can hide.
God’s Promise is not where the titular Cameron (Chloe Grace Moretz) finds herself in “The Miseducation of Cameron Post.” She knows she’s attracted to girls and while remorseful of the damage caused by her relationship with one lover, isn’t particularly ashamed of her orientation. It’s when the God’s Promise worshipers tap into her shame over her former affair that Cameron questions not if being gay is impossible or a sin, but if it’s worth it to be true to herself when that personal enlightenment only damages those in her shadow.
It’s the most resounding and poignant idea from Desiree Akhavan’s film, based on the novel of the same name by Emily M. Danforth. The performances are subdued but still culminate in catharsis, with Moretz rarely speaking above a polite, obedient tone. The film refrains from jamming in half-hearted cliches of flamboyant, LGBT teens. These campers are portrayed as what realistic participants of this camp would look like: Brainwashed kids who want to adopt the ethos of God’s Promise to better their lives, and the more self-aware adolescents whom dutifully march in pace, hoping their proper foot rhythm will allow them to freely walk out the front gates some day.
The editing of “Miseducation of Cameron Post” is superb, reflecting how Cameron is engaged in a constant, mental tug-of-war, actively ignoring the now but subconsciously unable forget the past. But scenes often dwell on too long, an effort to maintain the mood but losing the emotional impact in return. The film acts as a revealing warning about how easily and maliciously people can wield their education or power to manipulate those less advantaged. For the staff, it’s not so much a question of mistreating sexuality as it is emotionally abusing an undeveloped mind and soul grief-stricken over the supposed harm they’ve caused their love ones. In that sense, “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” isn’t just a worthy addition to LGBT cinema, it’s a needed warning of the woes of emotional manipulation, how one’s desire to tread down a path of goodwill and righteousness can be so easily warped by the smiling strangers offering knowingly bad directions on their trail.