Calls to ban gay conversion therapy are growing in New Zealand, making The Miseducation of Cameron Post's debut at the festival all the more timely. But as a film that takes a watchful approach, opting to dance around its central issue rather than unpack it, its impact is hindered when that political context is considered.
Chloe Grace Moretz is Cameron Post, a teen sent to "God's Promise" conversion therapy after she's caught kissing a girl. Moretz's performance is strong; for much of the film, her quiet ambivalence to the sinister teachings of Dr Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle) hints at more internal battles. But Cameron's stony demeanour eventually distances her from the audience; we never truly understand who she is, and queer viewers hungry for the kind of emotional arc found in other coming-of-age dramas will leave disappointed.
Mostly, Cameron Post lands as a hangout film with little conflict, as Cameron becomes fast friends with Jane (Sasha Lane) and Adam (Forrest Goodluck). This is where director Desiree Akhavan succeeds; watching the friends fall into their beautifully rendered comraderie against their repressive superiors makes for charming viewing. Lane and Goodluck offer strong supporting turns, though neither character is fleshed out enough to do them justice. Even Adam's explanation of being two-spirit, a Native American understanding of sexuality, is far too brief, and it squanders an opportunity to give voice to an underrepresented identity.
When Cameron asks late in the film, "How is programming people to hate themselves not emotional abuse?" It's one of the first signs she's gaining agency over her sexuality. It's a subtle taste of triumph that would work in another film, but here, it can't surpass the many other unresolved threads; even the heart-breaking act of violence that prompts Cameron's question is brushed over.
Akhavan's effortless knack for naturalistic humour and her less-is-more approach certainly makes for a warmly entertaining experience – but as the film embraces a sudden sense of liberation towards its end, it feels, in a narrative sense, undeserved.
Chloe Grace Moretz, Sasha Lane, Forrest Goodluck
M (sex scenes, offensive language & drug use)
A far-too-passive look at a painfully real topic
The Miseducation of Cameron Post screens again on Thursday August 2, 4.15pm, at The Civic Theatre.