BY Abigail Standish

Desiree Akhavan breaks the mould of coming-of-age stories with her authentic, clever, and ubiquitously insightful “The Miseducation of Cameron Post”. 

The story begins the way many young adult stories do- with two teenagers falling in love or lust. In one of the first scenes, Cameron and the prom queen are in the middle of a very normal act for two teenagers- having sex on prom night. Then, reality sinks in when Cameron’s boyfriend opens the door, catching the two girls in the act. Everyone involved is horrified, Cameron’s boyfriend quickly outs her to her evangelical Christian aunt, and Cameron is sent off to a school aimed at making queer kids straight. There, Cameron is met by a small and motley student body, and two supremely awful staff members. We then follow Cameron and her peers as they deal with the dichotomous influences of religion and their innate romantic and sexual desires. As Cameron bonds with her new peers and begins to understand herself, we’re given a portrayal of the torment felt by many high schoolers- especially those who are part of the LGBTQ+ community. “Maybe we’re meant to be disgusted at ourselves when we’re teenagers” is an earnest bit of dialogue I suspect many of us can identify with. Even if you can’t relate to the experience of a painful adolescence or to this particular experience of being queer, there is still so much to learn from this story.

What the audience gleans from the story is this: grown-up people like to dictate to growing-up people the definitions of right and wrong, but there comes a time for young people to consider moral matters for themselves.

We’re reminded that adult morality and intelligence are capable of being equally as fallible or legitimate as our own, even with their advantage of having been alive longer. As we watch the adults in Cameron’s life- her sister, and the directors of the school (called “God’s Promise”)— fight to change her and her peers into something they need not be, “Miseducation” holds us by the hand and gently shows us that despite the antagonists’ humungous flaws and their manipulation of these kids, they are not wholly evil. Our antagonists are only doing what they think is right in the eyes of their god. Akhavan’s sympathetic and merciful story telling allows for dynamic characters, each of whom we can feel some level of tenderness toward. The characters and dialogue are relatable and oh-so-very real. I believed every line, every action, and every facial expression. This is because nothing and no one in the script is all good or all bad. Everyone is beautiful and everyone is ugly. In a Sundance interview, Akhavan says that she intended to create something which “fiercely advocates for ugliness in characters and how they don’t mean to be ugly.” She does just that.

Now, If you’re particularly susceptible to catching secondhand emotions- do be prepared to shed a few tears and spend half the time wishing you could reach into the big screen and give Cameron a hug. That being said, I did laugh more than I cried. The writing is witty, cathartic, and entirely amusing.

While fairly gratifying, the end scene is not ideal or perfectly happy (which is not a bad thing, I found it wonderfully authentic), but I’ll stop right there because I am not in the business of dishing out unsolicited spoilers.

Oh, and I didn’t even notice the soundtrack but the first thing my very musical boyfriend said to me when we were walking out of the theatre was “Wow, the music really matches the emotion the film is trying to convey.” So if you’re into cool sounds conveying varying emotions (mostly melancholy ones), keep that in mind!

Sydney Film festival is on until 17 JUN - find out more here.

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