- Martin Freeman, Jenna Ortega, Bashir Salahuddin
- Written by
- Jade Hailey Bartlett
- Directed by
- Jade Hailey Bartlett
- Run Time
- 1h 33min
- Release Date
- January 26th, 2024
When I was a teenager, it was not uncommon during the late seventies and the eighties to see a movie about a teenage boy having an affair with an older woman. Movies like Private Lessons, Risky Business, and Loverboy would fill the theaters, with the latter increasing the sale of anchovies at local pizza shops. Today, you don’t see these movies, and even less often do you see a reversal, a high school girl and an older man. Jade Halley Bartlett’s feature debut tackles that, and thanks to her great cast, it takes some risky lessons from its predecessors.
In some town in Tennessee, at a local high school, there is a once-published writer who now teaches English named Jonathan Miller (Martin Freeman). In his class, he has one student who seems to appreciate literature like he does, and her name is Cairo Sweet (Jenna Ortega), who comes from a well-to-do family in town. Her parents are lawyers and are often not at home, allowing Cairo a freedom that most girls her age don’t get to have. Cairo is often hanging around her friend Winnie (Gideon Adlon), who has quite a personality and seems to have her eye on a teacher, or at least is contemplating it. As for Cairo, her and Mr. Miller’s shared interest seems to ignite a spark, but for Mr. Miller, it is not something that crosses his mind, that is until Cairo turns up the heat. It is not that Cairo wants Mr. Miller, but it is instead a power play for her, as she wants to push the line and see what happens. Things though don’t go completely like she plans, but Cairo has the power and uses it even when she doesn’t get her way.
For a debut, Miller’s Girl has its issues, but the choices Bartlett made when it comes to the style of the film for me paid off. I love a good story where the games of seduction are on full display, and while we don’t get any bunny rabbits in boiling water, the head games and power plays were enough for me. Bartlett also takes the writing into the ‘a little too much’ category sometimes, which has the effect of taking the viewer out of the moment at times. She also plays this story very seriously and skips out on the camp, which I think a little camp might have overall helped the story Bartlett was trying to tell considering the taboo subject matter.
Miller’s Girl ultimately works because of Ortega and Freeman; both deliver, even if Freeman at times struggles with a southern accent. No matter how steamy or raunchy the words may be, it never walks the walk, but to be honest, Ortega sells it all and negates the need for the actions. As the story barrels along, it lands on a more sobering note, which is based in reality, and while Bartlett doesn’t truly reach where I think she wanted to go, the trip taken is still worth it.