The Sundance-winning movie signals a maturation for the director of ‘Appropriate Behavior.’
Desiree Akhavan’s debut feature film, Appropriate Behavior, took the festival circuit by storm several years ago. Unfortunately, she wasn’t one of those lucky (*cough* and male) directors who could simply jump from being an indie darling to blockbuster success overnight.
Instead, Akhavan was presented with scripts that didn’t test her as a diverse filmmaker, more often than not being pitched stories that merely sounded like bigger budget versions of the movie she had already made. The television series that Akhavan wanted to jumpstart – The Bisexual – was rejected all over Hollywood. Thankfully it found life across the pond, where she was also able to maintain creative control. In sticking to her guns, Akhavan may not have had her “Colin Trevorrow moment.” However, she managed to reserve her artistic integrity for something greater.
Alongside The Bisexual, Akhavan was hard at work on her next feature screenplay. That eventually turned into The Miseducation of Cameron Post, an adaptation of Emily M. Danforth’s debut novel of the same name which was co-written by Cecilia Frugiuele, who also produced Appropriate Behavior. The Miseducation of Cameron Post is searing and eye-catching in its timeliness amidst calls for more inclusive representations of the LGBTQ community. It premiered at Sundance to rave reviews and took home the coveted Grand Jury Prize, and FSR has name-dropped the film a bunch as one of our most anticipated features of the year.
The brand-new trailer for The Miseducation of Cameron Post definitely satiates our anticipation. The footage hits all the right emotional beats and does an impeccable job of reminding us of exactly why Akhavan should be a big deal.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post follows its titular protagonist (Chloe Grace Moretz) who gets shipped off to a gay conversion therapy center by her conservative guardians. Once there, she is subjected to a strict religious program of “repentance” in order to be “cured” of her so-called vice of liking girls. Still, despite the oppressive environment that Cameron must endure, she manages to form an alliance of rebellion with two fellow dissidents of the camp’s cause (played by Sasha Lane and Forrest Goodluck). Their camaraderie becomes crucial to their survival in such a gruesome place.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post is much bigger in scope and more serious in tone compared to Appropriate Behavior. The topics tackled in Danforth’s original novel are heavy to begin with, making it impossible to find even the most off-beat humor in the situations that play out in the source novel. After all, storylines involving fanatic religious families and intolerance should be tackled with the utmost empathy.
That being said, the humor in Appropriate Behavior was never actually “appropriate” either, yet it serves a purpose and doesn’t feel dismissive of the more sobering aspects of the movie. The act of making fun of awkward situations in Akhavan’s debut plays out as a form of commiseration more than anything else. In Appropriate Behavior, Akhavan’s protagonist waltzes through her unfocused and slightly disastrous life in a self-destructive yet endearing way. Her untethered nature and the feelings of loss that she has to grapple with combine to make sure that when we laugh, we actually cope with her.
The persistent quirkiness of Appropriate Behavior doesn’t find its way into the trailer for The Miseducation of Cameron Post because the latter requires a different form of levity. There are some deliberately awkward scenes featuring Moretz’s Cameron attempting to participate in the mission of the God’s Promise camp because she simply has to. Otherwise, what we feel at the start of the trailer is Cameron’s suffering. This is even amplified by the clip’s deliberately bare sound edit which only consists of percussion and voiceover. Jennifer Ehle’s character, Dr. Lydia Marsh, runs a tight ship that Cameron cannot escape.
That is until she finds her crew. “I guess it’s like having their own Disney villain,” Goodluck’s Adam Red Eagle muses, “only this one won’t let you jerk off.” There’s the humor that Akhavan does so well, the kind that breaks the ice when tackling a heavy subject but still remains hinged on an underlying sensitivity. Lane’s Jane Fonda (yes, that is her name) proclaims that she doesn’t have a choice but to be where she is, something that Cameron obviously relates to. They are misfits who fit together.
Cameron and her friends find solace in each other. Their scenes are brief enough that most of their interactions are reminiscent of the ones in many coming-of-age stories, but that isn’t a negative assessment. From a standpoint of familiarity and relatability, we witness Cameron coming into her own, despite the harrowing nature of her situation. This isn’t merely some detached story of a girl’s “plight,” but a validation of her feelings and the journey of self-discovery that she goes on.
The focus on relationships and connections between characters — both positive and negative — is the real throughline in Akhavan’s work. Danforth’s story paints a picture of explosive adolescent actualization that’s stifled by fear. The “bratty” and “entitled” lead character that inhabits Appropriate Behavior tells a story of self-acceptance in her own vastly different way. In both instances, Akhavan’s compassionate filmmaking is the glue that makes these stories stand out in their powerful individuality.
Akhavan’s thriving filmography collectively prove that she is no one-trick pony. Rather, she’s primed to direct vital movies in the years to come through her unique and tender lens.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post will hit cinemas on August 3rd.