Led by a career best performance from Chloe Grace Moretz, this year's Grand Jury Prize winner is a satirical, darkly comedic, yet hugely moving examination of identity.
There’s an incredibly fine line, these days, between comedy, satire and offence in movies. Take the recent awards player Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri as an example: a crime drama, laced with an inconsistent thread of Martin McDonagh’s trademark dark humour, skewering Midwestern America in the process, and ultimately rubbing a lot of people the wrong way. It ticks all three boxes, and it’s not the only movie to cause offence. Amy Schumer’s I Feel Pretty has angered audiences for a number of different reasons through its central plot points and message, Jason Reitman’s indie hit Juno stirred up both praise and criticism for its presentation of the abortion debate, and Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street garnered serious apathy from many over its characters and their various “activities”. We live in an increasingly sensitive and PC world, where art is arguably more subjective than it has ever been; where some may love Three Billboards for its powerful performances and sharp dialogue, others will detest it for its tone deaf takes on racism and small town America.
This is where Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post comes in. It too treads an interesting line; one part coming of age tale, one part powerhouse drama, one part comedy, one part satirical take on American Conservative Christianity. Akhavan’s sophomore feature is fearless, unflinching and incredibly moving in its satire. Akhavan’s screenplay, co-written with Cecilia Frugiuele, packs some sharp wit, thought provoking encounters and a large helping of satire; it’s undoubtedly a movie that will turn heads, for both the best and worst reasons. After being found hooking up on prom night with a female classmate, teenager Cameron Post (Chloe Grace Moretz) is sent away to a gay conversion camp to cure her “SSA” (same-sex attraction). Cameron finds herself among other teens just like her; controlled by paranoid guardians, at odds with their new surroundings, and struggling to retain their identities.
The latter is one of the central themes that makes The Miseducation… so powerful. Part of the appeal of coming of age stories is how they are led by characters who are at a pivotal and formative point in their lives, where they can grow and develop in any way possible, and this is how Akhavan elevates the film. Cameron’s own situation is obviously centralised, she finds herself caught between her own sexuality and the seemingly insurmountable pressure to change and to conform. This is the same among the entire cast of teens, the looming indoctrination of the camp acting as the figurative antagonist of the story, the barrier to their own selves. Whilst the overall characterisation is somewhat underwhelming for the ensemble, they each feel different and all operate with an authentic, likeable chemistry, pulling the trigger on the heavier, more powerful moments with ease – Owen Campbell in particular has one moment in which he is simply stunning, and Chloe Grace Moretz shares an equally as powerful scene with Emily Skeggs.
Moretz is the absolute star of the show. Since her breakout performance in 2010’s Kick Ass, she’s been Hollywood’s go to girl for teen roles, but she’s better than she’s ever been here. Her personality is comparatively more muted to her usual characters, allowing Moretz to shine in what is a quieter performance, breaking occasionally with some heart wrenching moments where the camera simply lingers on her as Cameron crumbles. Her already stellar career is given a shot of adrenaline thanks to Cameron Post, it’s a performance that will undoubtedly elevate Moretz in the eyes of many. As her friends Adam and Jane, Forrest Goodluck and Sasha Lane slot in alongside Moretz to complete a hugely likeable lead trio; their chemistry is, as with the rest of the cast, well worked and, whilst they too suffer from some underdevelopment, they compliment Moretz well. The frustrating lack of character development extends to John Gallagher Jr. and Jennifer Ehle, who both give strong performances, Ehle in particular carries an air of Nurse Ratchet about her, but they feel somewhat inconsequential and ineffective to Cameron and her story.
Whilst lacking what feels like a good 15-minutes on the end, The Miseducation of Cameron Post is still a gem. Equal parts moving and humorous, it further solidifies Chloe Grace Moretz as a star, and will likely make ones out of its director and young ensemble. It very much feels like a film of the times, despite its 15 year old setting, designed to ruffle feathers but to also bring up a discussion. It may not rank up there with the Grand Jury Prize winning classics of the past, but it nonetheless is a powerful, powerful film.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018), directed by Desiree Akhavan, screened as part of the 2018 Sundance London Film Festival. It will be released in UK cinemas on August 31st, distributed by Vertigo Releasing, certificate 15.