MATTHEW BOND FILM OF THE WEEK
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ast year, one of the most talked-about films of the summer was the gorgeouslooking art-house hit Call Me By Your Name, directed by Luca Guadagnino. Northern Italy looked fabulous, Armie Hammer brought very short shorts back into fashion and the closing music – Sufjan Stevens’s haunting Visions Of Gideon – sent entire audiences out into the street dabbing gently at their eyes. Against all the odds – or certainly against mainstream Hollywood thinking – a film about a teenage boy’s first gay relationship made quite an impact.
Which probably goes some way to explaining both the fuss and the marketing push behind The Miseducation Of Cameron Post. A top prize-winner at the independently spirited Sundance Film Festival and directed by a woman, Desiree Akhavan, it also chronicles a first gay-teenager rite of passage but from a much darker angle.
Because when 17-year-old Cameron Post (Kick-Ass star Chloë Grace Moretz) is found having sex in the back of a car with her sexy first girlfriend, no one sits her down, as they did in Call Me By Your Name, for a cosy chat about wishing they had done something similar when they were young. Instead, an embarrassed, confused and even somewhat penitent Cameron is packed off by her evangelical aunt and uncle to God’s Promise, a religious ‘reeducation 18
centre’ specialising in so-called gay conversion therapy.
A few months of hard work here, promise the people who run it, and Cameron will be as straight as straight can be. Her ‘miseducation’ has begun.
What they want to rid her of, explains the nice, smiley but hideously moustachioed Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr) is the ‘sin’ of so-called ‘SSA’ – Same Sex Attraction. They like to picture it, he goes on, as an iceberg with most of the reasons for succumbing to SSA lurking unseen below the surface. Drawing and personalising your own iceberg is very much part of the therapeutic process at the fiercely religious centre, and ‘disciples’ are encouraged to fill them with their own reasons for apparently being gay.
But while some inmates cheerily fill theirs with ‘did too much sport with Dad’ and ‘didn’t get enough physical affection from Mom’ Cameron can’t think of anything to write. Particularly as her parents are dead. ‘Great!’ exclaim her new friends, ‘write that down, they’ll love that.’ Actually, they put it a little more bluntly than that but you get the idea.
Akhavan, who co-adapts from Emily M Danforth’s novel as well as directs, gets the tone pretty much spot on. Watching the deeply unsettling narrative unfold, it’s easy to take comfort in the mistaken belief that this is an American phenomenon that couldn’t happen here. But it has and still does, although the Government is currently considering legislation to make such courses illegal.