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MOVIES: The Miseducation of Cameron Post - Review [Sundance 2018]

It's prom night in 1993, and after Cameron Post (Chloe Grace Moretz) dances the night away with her date, she and best friend Coley (Quinn Shephard) retire to the parking lot to smoke a little weed and engage in a steamy makeout session. But when Cameron's boyfriend unexpectedly opens the door to find the girls in the midst of their lovemaking, all hell breaks loose and Cameron is unceremoniously whisked away to God's Promise, a wilderness camp where Christian counselors work to "cure" gay teenagers - and thus begins The Miseducation of Cameron Post.

Running the show at God's Promise is Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle), whose methodology seems like a far cry from any religious teachings Cameron has experienced in the past. According to Dr. Marsh, there's no such thing as homosexuality: there's only sin, manifested as attraction to the same sex. Marsh finds fault nearly everywhere she looks, such as when Cameron asks to be referred to as "Cam," a request that is swiftly denied because "Cameron is already a masculine name, and abbreviating it to something even less feminine only exacerbates your gender confusion."

"It's like having your own Disney villain," laments Adam (Forrest Goodluck), a Lakota youth who, along with fellow "disciple" Jane (American Honey star Sasha Lane), sees right through the camp's message of self-hatred as a means of self-improvement. Both are willing to play along during group therapy sessions in hopes of eventually being allowed to return home, but neither buys into the notion that they have an affliction that needs to be cured. The camp's other "disciples" fall elsewhere on the spectrum: Erin (Emily Skeggs) believes she was attracted to girls because she spent too much time watching football with her father, while Mark (Owen Campbell) has completed the program and is ready to return home, but remains terrified that he can never truly change.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post asks a lot from its star, and Moretz is more than up to the task, showcasing a heartbreaking amount of vulnerability and delivering a performance that is not only her best work in years, but possibly her best work, period. The anxiety of being a teenager and trying to determine where you fit into the world is a universal struggle that all viewers should be able to relate to, but Moretz's work here will be a lightning rod for anyone who ever grappled with their sexual identity. On the flip side of the coin is Lane, projecting an image of our ideal selves: confident, self-assured, comfortable in her own skin and seemingly afraid of nothing.

Adapting from Emily M. Danforth's novel, director Desiree Akhavan gracefully navigates this weighty subject matter while trying to find the humanity in each of the characters - even the counselors at God's Promise, such as Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr.), who went through the same treatment these kids are now being asked to endure. Akhavan also infuses Cameron's experiences with plenty of humor, which eases some of the tenser moments with a bit of much-appreciated levity, but also allows those heavier scenes to land with additional impact. Expect to wipe away tears more than once before the credits roll - and to be laughing again before your eyes have dried.

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