Desiree Akhavan’s follow up to the acclaimed Appropriate Behaviour (2014) is a coming of age drama set in a gay conversion camp in the rural US during the early years of the 1990s. Chloe Grace Moretz is the titular Cameron, a young woman struggling to understand her sexuality who is sent away to a Christian camp when her relationship with another girl from her Bible Studies class is discovered.
There she is surrounded with rules and regulations, with pseudo-therapy designed to “undo” the damage of her supposed gender confusion by the camp counsellor Dr Lydia (Jennifer Ehle), whose calm approach to the children barely conceals her cold and unnerving determination to the rid them of the disease of SSA (same sex attraction, reduced to a medicalised acronym).
Cameron soon becomes friends with the two members of the camp who are outwardly, yet quietly, rebelling against the regime of God’s Promise, Jane Fonda – who grew up in a commune, and played by the excellent Sasha Lane – and Adam Red Eagle, a Lakota Two-Spirit (Forrest Goodluck). Together they sneak into the woods to smoke, chat and attempt to retain some sense of normality in a camp where positive reinforcement from sports is seen as a trigger for lesbianism.
Akhavan and Cecilia Frugiuele’s script is sharp and funny, capturing the awkwardness of teenage girlhood from the opening scenes of the high school prom, to the insidious nature of homophobia as it twists the campers’ perceptions of themselves. Moretz is amazing as Cameron, trying to come to terms with her guardians’ decision to place her in the camp, the disgust that she is told to embrace in the so-called counselling, and the innate teenage rebellion that lurks below the surface. Her conflict is betrayed by simple glances and expressions, never over-acting or melodramatic, even when the script calls for a impromptu sing-along to the radio, it feels natural.
The character of Adam is an interesting and nuanced look at Two-Spirit identity in the Native American, Lakota society – while accepted by his community, Adam is forced to attend the camp when his father converts to Christianity and his son’s identity is no longer acceptable. Those outside Native communities might not be aware of the definition of Two-Spirit, a person who has both a male and female spirit inside them, and this inclusion in the film opens it up to an interest exploration of colonialist attitudes in modern America.
It isn’t always an easy film to watch, but the issues of self-hate, identity and sexuality are sensitively dealt with, with a sparkling cast and brilliant direction.