Starring Chloë Grace Moretz. Rated 14A
As if adolescence isn’t tough enough and wrestling with sexual orientation even more so, this coming-of-age tale also factors in the complications of cultlike therapy. For those unfamiliar with the ex-gay movement, gay-conversion therapy (or reparative therapy) is the scientifically unfounded and often religious-based attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation. It’s been a particularly topical issue, as in June the City of Vancouver banned the controversial practice. Based on the novel by Emily M. Danforth, this fictional take on the subject matter illustrates what impact it can have, even with the best of intentions, on those undergoing it.
It’s 1993, and titular Montana high-school student Cameron (Chloë Grace Moretz) has been getting it on with a female classmate in secret. But when she’s caught in the act, her aunt and legal guardian whisks her off to a rural boarding school. It’s actually a gay-conversion therapy centre called God’s Promise. What unfolds is akin to a religious spin on the traditional high-school drama, as part of what’s of interest here are the diverse personalities and social politics on display, ranging from Cameron’s hyperdevout, football-loving roommate Erin (Emily Skeggs) to the rebellious cool girl Jane Fonda (Sasha Lane) and her misfit Indigenous pal Adam (Forrest Goodluck).
More voyeuristically, it all transpires within a peculiar culture with its own specific jargon, disciplinary rules, and values—which frequently provide both amusement and concern, often simultaneously. With the school’s insistence on solving the sin of same-sex attraction, it’s a topsy-turvy world in which Moretz plays Cameron as appropriately bewildered and wide-eyed as she is taught to reinterpret her own feelings. But it’s not a question of whether she knows what she wants, but rather whether she will find a way to assert herself before she’s smothered by the oppressive forces governing her.
Speaking of which, Jennifer Ehle plays the school’s head, Dr. Lydia Marsh, with appropriately nuanced menace veiled behind a placid demeanour. She runs the school with her brother Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr.), who was one of her so-called success stories, though his role is underutilized. Director Desiree Akhavan demonstrates restraint by eschewing a jugular takedown of the religious movement, and instead opting for a more understated approach by showing characters struggling to do their best, even if what they think is the path to help may be the contrary.