Derrick Dunn

Derrick Dunn

Jenna Ortega and Martin Freeman star in the tame Miller’s Girl

Writer and director Jade Hallet Bartlett enlists the talents of Martin Freeman and Jenna Ortega to navigate her debut in Miller’s Girl from Lionsgate. The film takes place at a college in the Deep South. It introduces us to Cairo Sweet (Jenna Ortega), a talented young writer who spends her days reading and nights hanging out with her best friend, Winnie (Gideon Adlon).

One day, she catches her teacher’s eye, Jonathan Miller (Martin Freeman), when she displays literary knowledge well ahead of her years. On the home front, the spark in his marriage to Beatrice (Dagmara Dominczyk) is gone. Hence, he welcomes the attention of Cairo, who embarks on a creative odyssey when Mr. Miller 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 striving to preserve their sense of purpose and the things they hold dear.

Jenna Ortega, a rising star who recently succeeded in the series Wednesday and the Scream sequels, managed to squeeze in time for a small indie film. When I saw the poster for this film, I initially thought it would follow the path of early nineties thriller The Crush. Jade Hallet Bartlett has all the makings to go that route, but she never does. Instead, she crafts a film that may have come across better as a play, as the movie has only six critical roles.

Primarily, the movie relies on the strength of our leads, Ortega and Freeman. Early on, it’s established that Mr. Miller is a failed writer stuck in a dead job, so it makes sense why things develop with Ortega’s character of Cairo. While Cairo comes off as an old soul and book-smart, it’s clear that she’s also naive. Ortega does what she can with the material and wisely avoids turning the character into a sexpot.

On the other hand, Freeman brings his usual beta male theatrics to Miller, so it is easy to see why he ends up in the pickle he does. The supporting cast primarily falls into the usual character templates a film like this requires. Dagmara Dominczyk brings the right amount of ice queenism to the wife character, and Bashir Salahuddin hams it up as the wise best friend who warns Miller about playing with fire.

Unfortunately, the movie falls apart in its third act, with a resolution that feels disconnected from the rest of the film. Despite the studio’s claim that the movie is a psychological thriller with an intriguing student-teacher relationship that leads to discomfort after spurned advances, the actual portrayal of these events is relatively modest. The screenplay makes a commendable effort but fails to realize its intended ideas towards the movie’s end fully.

Despite the best efforts by our leads, Miller’s Girl ends up being the cliff notes version of a Lifetime thriller.

Final Grade: C-

Miller’s Girl opens in theaters this Friday.

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Jenna Ortega and Martin Freeman star in the tame Miller’s Girl