This is the second well-received tale of battling gay-conversion to show up this year. What that says about the concerns of the day or the acceptance of people, I’m not sure. But they are both welcome and solid films. And while there are many similarities in subject, the movies are actually very different. Normally I wouldn’t compare two films so directly, but it is almost unavoidable given the subject matter and the proximity of viewing for me.
Boy Erased was a highly focused struggle of a young man and his family among misguided people trying to “help.” It was also a true story. Miseducation is fiction about a young woman who’s been thrown away to arguably less altruistic guides, and who must fend for herself. However, the sense of both films is very real and both leads are strong in their own ways.
Part of the differences that make this movie’s approach important is that Chloë Grace Moretz (Suspiria) is responsible for saving herself. For all intents, she is alone. It allows the story to tackle the concept of selected family over blood, and the importance of that reality in many LGBTQ lives. Her camp, while full of more freedom than the one presented in Boy Erased, is run by people who are more psychologically evil, too wrapped up in their beliefs to see those around them or any other possible truth.
Unsurprisingly, in both films, the stories pivot on inevitable traumas caused by the re-education camps. Again, the moments are different as are the responses. And here is where the films diverge in character.
Moretz is quietly, if a little unevenly, compelling in her role. The issue with her character feels like a lack of commitment and background in the script. We never really understand her and she barely responds to those around her. Some of that is character choice, but some feels like weak writing and direction by Desiree Akhavan (Appropriate Behavior) in her Sophomore outing. There are times when a little bit more heightened emotion might have helped, even if Akhavan’s ability to keep things natural was impressive.
And, in the absence of that strong center from Moretz, other characters steal the stage. One of those is Sasha Lane (Hearts Beat Loud), who shines just by walking onto screen. Even in the final moments of the story, Lane tends to pull focus from Moretz. In some ways that is a compliment to Moretz who was unconcerned about having to own the moments, but it does leave the sails a little slack throughout. Emily Skeggs (Mile 22) was another character whose energy was hard to tamp down.
Arrayed against these young adults are Jennifer Ehle (The Fundamentals of Caring) and John Gallagher Jr. (Peppermint). Gallagher is a layered and broken character, but not entirely credible. Ehle, on the other hand, provides the driving energy for the camp and is, sadly, all too believable but her layers are only implied, which was a shame.
Overall, Miseducation arrives with a strong judgement of its characters from the outset, which makes it a little weaker than Boy Erased. I’m not speaking about the point of view so much as the willingness to make all people human, despite their beliefs. Miseducation is still effective at what it intends, and it is certainly worth your time. Also, as an indicator of what the writer/director is capable of, it is an encouraging sign.