Miller's Girl Movie Review
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I’m not a fan of Southern Gothic. It is sociopathy romanticized as social isolation coupled. There’s nothing overtly creepy about Miller’s Girl (2024), except the potential for inappropriate shenanigans and the pall-like dread that hangs in the sticky Tennessean air.
Jenna Ortega is Cairo Sweet, a teenager abandoned by her parents in a rural mansion. She still attends public school, waking through the deep dark forest and fancies herself as A Writer. Cairo is the kind of writer actual writers can’t stand – pretentious, pedantic, and imagines herself far too good for genre pieces. She is young, isolated, and has received her communal education from mid-Century writers, her favorite being Henry Miller, a banned author in her public school. She has identified with him and his writing and has patterned her awakening after his identity. She has read it so it must be true.
Cairo takes an English class with Jonathan Miller (Martin Freeman), a once-published writer who has what she wants – a published book, and minor recognition. She latches onto him like an elegant remora eel.
Jonathan is flattered by Cairo’s attention, and excited to foster a budding author with strong talent as a potential protege. As they begin a tentative dance of intellectual seduction, they both find themselves in untested waters. Cairo only knows love from literature, primarily her favorite author, Henry Miller, who may not offer the healthiest view of relationships.
Jonathan is the respectable part of his own lopsided marriage to Beatrice (Dagmara Dominczyk), an oversexed and overworked alcoholic who finds new and cruel ways to emasculate his writing. He’s happy to wallow in the glow of the infatuation knowing there’s a line he has no intention of crossing. Jonathan believes he’s found an intellectual peer in Cairo and he envisions the relationship progressing in a different direction. His own idealistic fantasies, and assumptions of emotional maturity signal his downfall.
Miller’s Girl is a Gothic cinematic version of 1980 The Police song, “Don’t Stand So Close to Me.” The tagline could be “just rich people stuff”. Cheers to Miller’s Girl’s costume designer, Lauren Bott, because Ortega’s wardrobe was seven shades of fabulous. Everything she wore, I wanted – flowy dramatic long sleeves with gathered cuffs paired with linen shorts. Her outfits were a combination of romance covers, practical Tennessee summers, and innocence. An eclectic collection that reflected her reading habits as well as her state of mind as the movie progressed. Her friend Winnie (Gideon Adlon), on a sexual waltz of her own with the coach/physics teacher (Bashir Salahuddin), on the other hand leaned heavily into to thrifted odds and ends that felt mismatched and disordered, the projection of imagined sexy that also shifted with the tone of the film.
Overall, Miller’s Girl wasn’t what I expected at all, and that’s a good thing, more or less. It’s blessedly short at 93 minutes because there’s no need to belabor the point. The power dynamics at play shift in such subtle ways, I wasn’t sure what the end game was supposed to be, and ultimately, I felt a little confused at the end. Were we witnessing someone’s villain origin story or the beginnings of a Shirley Jackson novella? It’s definitely worth a second viewing to note the nuances in each character’s development.
Miller’s Girl is rated R for swears, blunt literary language, and sexytimes both real and imagined.