Being a teacher comes with plenty of challenges, but what happens when one of them is a student that seeks to get too close? That’s the set up for Miller’s Girl, a new film starring Martin Freeman that opened nationwide on January 26.
The film is set in a small town in Tennessee. We’re introduced to Cairo Sweet (Jenna Ortega), an 18-year-old student who is smart, well-read, and something of a loner. Her parents—both lawyers—are permanently working overseas. They’ve left their daughter alone in an older, somewhat run-down mansion. She seems to have no guardian and no oversight, but plenty of free time.
Cairo is preparing her college essay, but she’s stuck on what her greatest accomplishment could be. At the same time, at the suggestion of her friend Winnie (Gideon Adlon), she has taken a new creative writing class. Her teacher is Jonathan Miller (Freeman), a published author who hasn’t written in some time after his collection of short stories was poorly received. Now, he’s trying to inspire the next generation.
Miller is something of an outsider, too. He’s only close to two people—his best friend, a fellow teacher and the baseball coach Boris (Bashir Salahuddin), and his wife, Beatrice (Dagmara Dominiczyk), who is a successful author. It’s clear Miller is stuck and frustrated personally and professionally.
When Cairo enters his class, her talent and her interest in literature sparks his interest. He begins to invest, seeing her as a potential professional success. But Cairo and Winnie have other aims for Miller and Boris. Will he fall into her trap?
Is Miller’s Girl Any Good?
This is a tough topic to pull off. Had Cairo and Winnie been college students, the overall narrative might play better. The fact it’s meant to be a high school makes it more unsettling. The flirtatiousness between Winnie and Boris, and Cairo and Miller are uncomfortable, which is likely somewhat by design.
From the jump, it’s clear the tone here is meant to be something like a romance novel. The characters often reference the works of Henry Miller, too, which adds a secondary meaning to the film’s title and the tone of the action. Sometimes the dialogue and sequences draw you in and sometimes it feels a bit too much.
Jade Halley Bartlett wrote the script and directed the film. Visually, the film is quite appealing. The camera work and sequences add tension and drama to the sequences and really set the mood. But the dialogue and the story sometimes pull you out of it. The performances are strong, with the primary five actors doing a nice job of bringing the world to life.
But, ultimately, the enjoyment of the film will come down to your comfort with the narrative. It sets you on edge and can be a bit much at times. The film is interesting, but the unsettling nature of the story makes it difficult to get into at times.