Miller’s Girl Review: Jenna Oretga in an age gap psychological thriller

I need to stop watching movies where there is a significant age gap in a “couple” because it is always upsetting to me. There are enough lecherous people in the real world, preying on the admiration of young people, that I don’t need to see that behavior on screen. But I made an exception for writer and director Jade Halley Bartlett’s Miller’s Girl because I hoped that a woman’s perspective might offer something different. Alas, it did not. Or rather, it could have, but it was so focused on the approval of the male gaze that it parroted the same thing we’ve seen repeatedly from men. 

Cairo Sweet (Jenna OrtegaScreamWednesday) is a high school senior and a brilliant writer. Her English teacher is failed author Jonathan Miller (Martin FreemanBlack PantherThe Hobbit), who sees it as his job to challenge her. When we see Cairo reciting passages from Jonathan’s book to him, we get the impression that the two of them may challenge one another. Jonathan assigns the students a midterm assignment to write about their greatest achievements so far in the style of a famous author. 

There is a scene early in the film that felt like there was something in this movie that might differentiate it from so many other films with a hot young student and an older teacher in an unhappy marriage. As Cairo talks with her friend Winnie (Gideon AdlonBlockers) about her greatest achievements, she recognizes that as an 18-year-old, she hasn’t had the opportunity to achieve much. This conversation connects to a scene later in the movie, but by then, I had nearly forgotten about it in the torrent of salacious behavior. 

Martin Freeman and Jenna Ortega in Miller's Girl. Image courtesy of Lionsgate.
Martin Freeman and Jenna Ortega in Miller’s Girl. Image courtesy of Lionsgate.

Some aspects of Miller’s Girl are unique

I think that’s what is so frustrating about this movie. Some aspects are unique and could have provided the audience with a story, unlike anything like the many movies in this category that have come before. Even if some elements were similar – flirtation and inappropriate conversations – there was the potential for there to be a more interesting motivation than we generally get, which is a horny adult who wants to have sex with a teenager. 

But instead, it’s exactly what you think it will be. Cairo writes a provocative essay in the style of Henry Miller for her midterm that outlines a student and teacher having sex, and we get to see that play out on screen. It’s a beautifully shot scene, very reminiscent of the fantasy scenes in Sam Mendes’s American Beauty, but honestly, it felt hollow. One thing that worked (?) in American Beauty was the juxtaposition of the fantasy and how the reality played out. This film stays largely in the fantasy throughout, making it look impressive but never serving the story. 

The performances make it difficult to connect with the characters

I also struggled with the performances in this, and a lot of that comes down to the screenplay and direction because I like nearly all of the actors. The script is very poetic, often straying from how real conversations play out. Miller’s wife Beatrice, played by Dagmara Dominczyk, suffers from this in particular. I felt like I couldn’t get a read on her. In one scene, she’s berating her husband in front of his colleague, then she’s slow dancing with him in the living room, then she’s acting like she can’t even be near him while they’re working, and then she’s grinding on him in front of an open window. All while talking like a character from Knots Landing or Falcon Crest. The melodrama of it all just felt like it sucked the nuance from any performances, especially Jenna Ortega’s. 

The story gets even more convoluted when you realize that Cairo’s friend Winnie is also trying to seduce a teacher. I don’t know if there’s an epidemic of high school girls trying to hook up with their middle-aged teachers, but for the purposes of this Miller’s Girl, it just felt like too much. Maybe Bartlett intended to show the difference between someone doing it on a lark and someone making that pursuit to create a larger point, but it just came across as messy. And if I’m being honest, it’s a little gross. 

Martin Freeman and Jenna Ortega in Miller's Girl. Image courtesy of Lionsgate.
Martin Freeman and Jenna Ortega in Miller’s Girl. Image courtesy of Lionsgate.

Final thoughts on Miller’s Girl

The whole movie felt like a stew (RIP Carl Weathers) that sat in a crockpot too long. At some point, there may have been something of substance in there, but as it sits and cooks, it just all turns to mush.

There is a deeper question at the heart of this film about experiences and how sometimes we simply create them for ourselves, but that idea got muddled in the salaciousness of a 50-year-old teacher hooking up with an 18-year-old student. Maybe someday we will get a film that explores the themes of power, sexual attraction, and age differences in a way that is thoughtful and nuanced, but Miller’s Girl wasn’t it. 

Miller’s Girl is now in theaters. 

Have you watched it yet? What did you think of Miller’s Girl? Send us a message on X @MoviesWeTexted to share your thoughts.

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