This week another film on gay conversion therapy comes out: Boy Erased. It’s one of the most soul-crushingly earnest films you will ever see. Despite a great cast, with Lucas Hedges, Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman and Joel Edgerton (who also directs), even a horrific male rape scene doesn’t have the shock it should, because you are so bored by that point, and also cringing at how seriously it takes its subject matter. The Miseducation of Cameron Post is everything that film wishes it was, and more. Importantly, it has a sense of humour: the idea of going to some camp to get the “gay” beaten out of you is both horrific and so patently absurd that it becomes kind of hilarious.
It’s based on the Young Adult novel by Emily M. Danforth, which has become a minor hit. The film stars Chloë Grace Moretz in what may be one of, if not her last, “teen roles” as the Cameron Post of the title. She is discovered at her prom making out with a girl in the back of a car. The “boyfriend” who catches her is the teenage gestapo incarnate. He reports her, and she is sent off to “God’s Promise” by her Christian parents. The camp is run by a brother and sister team… the brother has been “cured” of his “same sex attraction”. Cameron rooms with a true believer… well, until they get together one night. She soon makes some friends, including Jane Fonda (Sasha Lane), whose parents are ex-hippies turned Christians, and a Lakota two-spirit person, Adam Red Eagle (Forrest Goodluck), whose Christian fathers have sent them there. Eventually they just have fun with the whole situation as much as possible.
Desiree Akhavan directs the film. She made a splash a few years ago with her first feature, Appropriate Behaviour. Most recently she wrote, directed and starred in the Channel 4 show The Bisexual, and she also had a recurring role on Girls. She opts for aesthetic look of a mid-’90s indie film, which is when the film is set. Boy Erased, however, in set in 2004, and although gay conversion camps still exist they are increasingly rare (and it makes sense for them to be period pieces.) That said, Boy Erased is based on a true story. The current US Vice President Mike Pence is also a strong believer in conversion therapy—maybe he has something to hide?
It’s an intimate film that is about overcoming opposition to being yourself and the power of friendship. The final act starts fall apart, but the ending, while abrupt, suits the film. It’s horrific when it needs to be, a case of male genital mutilation is an important plot point in the film. However, it’s first and foremost the experience of Cameron and friends surviving this absurd situation they have been forced into and overcoming it. There is also some funny stuff about the band The Breeders. It’s one of the better indie films to come out last year.