The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Posted on August 2, 2018 at 5:29 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Marijuana
Violence/ Scariness: Off-screen self-mutilation and attempted suicide
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: August 3, 2018

“Pray the gay away.”  That is the idea behind “gay conversion” facilities, now thankfully outlawed in fourteen states as contrary to both science and human dignity. But “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” based on the novel by Emily M. Danforth, is set in 1993. It might as well have been 1793 for the Puritanical attitude of the God’s Promise facility the title character is sent to when her date discovers her making out with a girl on prom night.

Copyright FilmRise 2018

Cameron (a performance of exceptional sensitivity by Chloe Grace Moretz) is packed up immediately by her aunt and uncle (her parents are dead) to become a “Disciple” at God’s Promise, run by the guitar-strumming, upbeat Reverend Rick, played by John Gallagher, Jr., showing us flickers of anxiety as he tries to reassure the teens at the facility that if he could be “cured” of being gay, so can anyone. The resident bad cop to Reverend Rick’s relentless cheer is Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle), who runs a tight ship, whether she is telling Cameron that she will not allow her to be called “Cam” (“Cameron is already a masculine name. To abbreviate it only exacerbates your gender confusion.”) or directing the “Disciples” to reveal their most private conflicts in publicly posted iceberg diagrams. What is important lies beneath the surface, and that is dangerous enough to sink the Titanic, she explains.  There is a pretense of choice, as Cameron is given a contract to sign, though she is underage and has no alternative.

Marsh tells the teenagers that “There’s no such thing as homosexuality. There’s only the sin we all face.”  She compares being gay to dangerous, self-destructive behavior: “Would you let drug addicts throw parades for themselves?”  And she posits the cause of what they term SSA (same-sex attraction): “too much bonding with a father over sports,” for example.

A quiet tone keeps the outrageous setting from turning into parody, even when they watch the (real) Christian workout video, “Blessercize,” and the teenagers are asked leading questions like, “When did you let same sex attraction get in the way of your goals?”  While a non-conversion facility might impose some restrictions on interactions between the boys and girls, there are few here.  Presumably, despite professed very strict rules about sexual behavior, Marsh and Reverend Rick are hoping the opposite genders will tempt each other.

The film won the top award at Sundance, a tribute to the understated mood and to an outstanding performance from Moretz, who allows us to observe her as she observes those around her. Neither she nor we are miseducated by the end.

Parents should know that this film includes explicit sexual references and situations, homophobia, some language, and marijuana.

Family discussion: What does it mean to say, “when I am weak, I am strong?” What ideas have changed since 1993?

If you like this, try: “But I’m a Teenager” and the upcoming “Boy Erased”

 

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Little Men

Posted on August 13, 2016 at 5:35 pm

Copyright 2016 Magnolia
Copyright 2016 Magnolia
Writer/director Ira Sachs makes small, exquisitely observed, films that are cinematic chamber music. He does not follow the reliable movie formulas about how many minutes into the running time you introduce characters, the challenges those characters face, the small conflict, the big conflict, and the resolution. He does not exaggerate to let us know whose side we are on or even what we are hoping for. He just allows us for a little while to be a part of the lives of basically good-hearted people who, like good-hearted people in real life, mean well but cannot help hurting each other. At first, the stories may seem slight. Sometimes the most important developments happen off screen. But with increasing confidence and understanding, Sachs has provided us with some of the most reliably worthy movies for grown-ups, including “Love is Strange,” and now “Little Men.”

“Little Men,” perhaps a reference to the Louisa May Alcott book of the same name, is an inherent contradiction. In this film, at least two of the characters it refers to are at that moment of inherent contradiction, middle school. As it begins, Jake Jardine (Theo Taplitz) is home alone when he gets a phone call. His grandfather has died. Soon, Jake and his parents, an actor named Brian (Greg Kinnear) and a psychiatrist named Kathy (Jennifer Ehle) move to his grandfather’s Brooklyn brownstone, an apartment over a dress shop owned by Leonor (Paulina García), an immigrant from Chile, who lives nearby with her son, Tony (Michael Barbieri), who is Jake’s age. Leonor greats Jake and his family warmly, if a little warily. And the two boys hit it off immediately and quickly become good friends. All three parents (Tony’s parents are separated) support this friendship, even as their own relationship starts to fray. Jake’s father had not raised Leonor’s rent in many years, even though rates had gone up as the area gentrified. Brian, currently rehearsing Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” does not make much money as an actor, and he is painfully aware that the family depends on Kathy to pay the bills. So is she. Brian’s sister is also pushing him to raise the rent because she is co-owner of the property.

The Jardines’ relationship with Leonor is not quite businesses and not quite friendship. In a way, Brian is a “little man” himself. He knows Leonor cannot afford to pay more and has nowhere else to go. He wants to be a good guy and fair to everyone, and that makes him feel ineffectual.

Sachs and his co-writer, Mauricio Zacharias understand the intensity of middle-school friendships, even when the people involved have little in common beyond being the same age and not quite fitting in anywhere else. Jake is quiet, a loner, happy to stay in his room and draw all day. Tony is outgoing, confident, and ambitious. He wants to be an actor, not because it would be fun to be on television and be famous but because he is serious about acting. In the film’s most uninhibited and joyous scene (filmed in Barbieri’s real-life acting class), Tony and his acting teacher do an improvisation exercise that has them shouting and mirroring one another. And we also see the boys gliding together through Brooklyn on roller blades and scooter, the exhilaration of being young and finding your first real adventure.

And we see Leonor, Brian, and Kathy trying to find some common ground with increasing frustration and impatience. Each scene is a small gem, a particularly apt metaphor because each shows us a different facet, a different face. If at first it seems discursive because it does not follow the traditional beats of cinematic storytelling, we see as it unfolds that Sachs is very much in control. His films reward us with patient, layered storytelling that reveal how large, and large-hearted, a small story can be.

Parents should know that this film has a sad (offscreen) death, family stress, drinking, smoking, some strong language, and issues of income inequality.

Family discussion: Should the boys’ friendship be affected by their parents’ dispute? Who was right and why?

If you like this, try: “Love is Strange”

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