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Movie Review: ‘Miller’s Girl’ | Moviefone


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Martin Freeman as Jonathan Miller and Jenna Ortega as Cairo Sweet in the Psychological Thriller film, 'Miller's Girl,' a Lionsgate release.

(L to R) Martin Freeman as Jonathan Miller and Jenna Ortega as Cairo Sweet in the Psychological Thriller film, ‘Miller’s Girl,’ a Lionsgate release. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.

Opening in theaters on January 26th, ‘Miller’s Girl’ takes a dynamic that has been portrayed many times on screen –– the complicated, troubling teacher/student relationship that threatens to cross over into something less legally defined through the actions of one or both.

Here, writer/director Jade Halley Bartlett looks to tell her own take on that tale, finding a way through a particularly knotty path that sometimes finds itself in the weeds of expectation and tone.

Does ‘Miller’s Girl’ Have the “Write” Stuff?

Jenna Ortega as Cairo Sweet in the Psychological Thriller film, 'Miller's Girl,' a Lionsgate release.

Jenna Ortega as Cairo Sweet in the Psychological Thriller film, ‘Miller’s Girl,’ a Lionsgate release. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.

Bartlett’s film, including the surname of one of the main characters, channels writer Henry Miller, whose writing also features as a key plot element. There might be nothing here that can quite compare to Miller’s work, but Bartlett has a fair stab at grafting complicated sexual politics on to a very recognizable dramatic situation. Yet that familiar concept can sometimes breed contempt, as there have been more compelling takes on this subject.

Related Article: ‘Miller’s Girl’ Interview: Director Jade Halley Bartlett

‘Miller’s Girl’: Script and Direction

Director/Writer Jade Halley Bartlett behind the of scenes of the Psychological Thriller film, 'Miller's Girl,' a Lionsgate release.

Director/Writer Jade Halley Bartlett behind the of scenes of the Psychological Thriller film, ‘Miller’s Girl,’ a Lionsgate release. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.

Bartlett’s playwright past means the dialogue is the star here, even more so than either Jenna Ortega or Martin Freeman. The pair’s burgeoning friendship and shared love of literature is a touchstone that Bartlett returns to several times as she draws her characters closer.

Problem is, there are times, particularly in the first two acts, where it smacks of Bartlett showing off her talent for writing. And that pushes the interaction between Ortega and Freeman, or Ortega and Gideon Adlon’s Winnie into unrealistic territory: these aren’t relatable, human characters, they’re constructs designed to spin clever lines together.

The concept also sometimes comes across as problematic, and we don’t mean the situation between the teacher and his student. Ortega’s character being left to rattle around the gothic mansion while her parents work/galivant overseas is not always as convincing as the writer/director believes them to be, no matter how much Bartlett tries to weave more mystery around her.

Once things get more dramatic, however, the tenor of the dialogue settles down to something that feels more like human interaction, no matter how melodramatic it becomes. It’s here, though, that the whole affair then threatens to go off the deep end as the twists start coming.

The direction, meanwhile, is basic and unobtrusive. The lower budget and tight focus mean that you never really get a sense of the school as a place –– other students are seldom glimpse, and outside of the five main characters, there are few other people to be found in the film.

It gives a claustrophobic feel, which works for the movie’s story, but does sometimes make it feel more like a play than a film. One or two visual moments break that spell –– one particular moment during a rainfall works very well –– but otherwise this is, by design, fairly closed in.

‘Miller’s Girl’: Performances

Martin Freeman as Jonathan Miller and Jenna Ortega as Cairo Sweet in 'Miller’s Girl.'

(L to R) Martin Freeman as Jonathan Miller and Jenna Ortega as Cairo Sweet in ‘Miller’s Girl.’ Photo Credit: Zac Popik.

Ortega has long since proved she can handle something like this –– though her academic acting of late has mostly been in ‘Wednesday’, which is more a dark comedy with a side of horror. Here, the horror is on a much more human level, and Ortega sinks into the role of the smart Cairo Sweet, who carries a sense of mystery around her along with her school books.

As the different layers of her psyche are revealed –– this is, after all, is a story that seeks to show the darker impulses of both the student and teacher –– Ortega is more than up to the task, though even she can’t quite make some of the later twists function convincingly.

Freeman, for his part, brings his own layers to teacher Jonathan Miller. We’re mostly used to seeing him as a likeable everyman and here, that’s who Miller appears to be at the start. But as the movie digs into his buried resentments and frustration, and his dangerous side is revealed, Freeman is still convincing.

Likewise his interaction with Bashir Salahuddin’s fellow teacher convinces as a friendly male relationship, full of warmly traded jokes and bonhomie. And Salahuddin also works well, though his character does sometimes verge into cliché.

Gideon Adlon, as Cairo’s best friend Winnie has her own arc. Initially portrayed as a sexed-up polysexual, she at first might belong more in a comedy such as ‘Booksmart’ or ‘Superbad’ (Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, by coincidence, are producers here), but is soon wrapped up in the ensuing drama between Ortega and Freeman’s characters. The cast sometimes struggles in the later scenes, but overall they all do good work.

‘Miller’s Girl’: Final Thoughts

Jenna Ortega as Cairo Sweet in the Psychological Thriller film, 'Miller's Girl,' a Lionsgate release.

Jenna Ortega as Cairo Sweet in the Psychological Thriller film, ‘Miller’s Girl,’ a Lionsgate release. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.

In tackling something that has been brought to screens in a variety of ways (not to mention a real-life issue that can be extremely difficult for all involved), ‘Miller’s Girl’ is a thoughtful, dramatic meditation on the dangers of literary lust spilling out into the real world. The performances are solid, but the movie itself sometimes finds itself lost in its own world.

‘Miller’s Girl’ receives 7 out of 10 stars.

“Write what you want.”

Not Yet Rated1 hr 33 minJan 26th, 2024

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A talented young writer (Jenna Ortega) embarks on a creative odyssey when her teacher (Martin Freeman) assigns a project that entangles them both in an increasingly… Read the Plot

What’s the plot of ‘Miller’s Girl’?

A talented young writer (Jenna Ortega) embarks on a creative odyssey when her teacher (Martin Freeman) assigns a project that entangles them both in an increasingly complex web. As lines blur and their lives intertwine, professor and protégé must confront their darkest selves while straining to preserve their individual sense of purpose and the things they hold most dear.

Who is in the cast of ‘Miller’s Girl’?

Martin Freeman as Jonathan Miller in the Psychological Thriller film, 'Miller's Girl,' a Lionsgate release.

Martin Freeman as Jonathan Miller in the Psychological Thriller film, ‘Miller’s Girl,’ a Lionsgate release. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.

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