'Miller's Girl' review: Jenna Ortega can’t enliven this uninspired drama
Courtesy of Lionsgate
“Do you wanna be liked or do you wanna be fucked?” is a line uttered about midway through “Miller’s Girl,” a sort of D-level version of “Cruel Intentions” minus, you know, the tension. Jenna Ortega, whose stock has only risen in the last year thanks to mega hits “Scream” and “Wednesday,” leads this tepid drama about a young student/aspiring writer who tries to seduce her teacher played by an awkward Martin Freeman. Try as they both might, writer-director Jade Halley Bartlett’s debut film is very surface level and barely scratches anything that would even be remotely considered taboo. If you’re going to make a film on this type of controversial subject matter, why not go for it all? Also, oddly enough, this was produced by Seth Rogen?
One must give credit to Ortega for trying to branch out from established franchises and showcase her dramatic chops, however, I’m starting to worry considering this is the second dud following her sexy though uneven performance in the streaming dud “Finestkind” in December. She’s given plenty to chew on in “Miller’s Girl,” where she plays Cario Sweet, a smart and detailed young mind who has been left alone by her parents in their mansion on the outskirts of Tennessee. Her ambitions lead her towards an unusual relationship with Freeman’s Jonathan Miller, a failed author caught in the middle of a struggling marriage.
“Miller’s Girl” obviously wants to explore power dynamics as it relates to the age gap, but it doesn’t have the patience to explore that dynamic. Instead, the film is structured and edited in a manner where it feels like complete sections of the film are missing, leaving the performances of both Freeman and Ortega in a strange spot. In another cut of the movie, you could sense that Miller’s wife, played by Dagmara Dominczyk, played a bigger role beyond the nagging spouse, and that a subplot involving Sweet’s best-friend, played by Gideon Adlon, trying to hook up with her physics teacher had more time to develop beyond the 3 minutes of airtime it’s allotted in this scant 90-minute production. Honestly, it’s kind of laughable.
Ironically, “Miller’s Girl” doesn’t give the student any semblance of a character worth investing in. She’s merely portrayed as someone who nonchalantly wants to find the line with her teacher and, maybe, explore her sexuality? The film anoints more development to the teacher and it falls painfully flat. As does most of the justification Sweet presents for pushing the boundaries of the student-teacher relationship. In the end, “Miller’s Girl” can be summed in another line of corny dialogue: “If it’s not controversial, it’s not interesting.” Well, this movie is neither controversial nor interesting. Style points for knowing where you stand I guess.
MILLER’S GIRL opens in theaters Friday, January 26th.