Let’s discuss writer/director Jade Halley Bartlett’s first film, Miller’s Girl, for a moment. Regardless of any criticisms, this movie effectively captures the allure of cigarettes on screen. Smoking appears stylish and, despite my personal preference, individuals look attractive while doing it. Even something as simple as lighting a cigarette carries a hidden sensuality, providing characters with an opportunity to separate themselves from the crowd and share intimate moments or secrets. Moreover, it allows the camera to focus on a character’s mouth, adding an intriguing visual element to the film.
Miller’s Girl Lookmovie holds a lot of promise and potential. Bartlett’s script was discovered on the Blacklist a few years ago. It combines elements of Southern Gothic Lolita with the nostalgic feel of ’90s psycho-stalker movies like The Crush and Poison Ivy. These movies often depict young women seducing, terrorizing, and ultimately destroying older male figures in their lives. They tantalize viewers by objectifying young women, only to then criticize them for succumbing to their desires. However, while there are moments that hit the mark, there are also moments that fall short. As a result, the final product lacks the necessary impact to truly delve into and criticize these themes. It’s no surprise that older men lusting after teenagers are creepy; there’s nothing groundbreaking about that. Beyond that, there isn’t much substance to sink your teeth into.
Jenna Ortega portrays the character of Cairo Sweet, a young woman from Tennessee with absent parents, in a hilariously named role. Despite her intelligence and ambition, Cairo has never ventured beyond her hometown. On the other hand, Jonathan Miller, who has a rather ordinary name, is a failed writer turned creative writing teacher. When Cairo enrolls in Miller’s class, their relationship starts as a mentorship but quickly evolves into infatuation, with flirtatious and erotically charged interactions. To complicate matters, Miller has a confrontational wife named Beatrice, and Cairo has not only read books but also his book! This combination sets the stage for a movie plot centered around obsession.
Bartlett deliberately amplifies every aspect to the maximum. (Once again, observe the name Cairo Sweet.) Miller and his wife cannot engage in any interaction without her constantly provoking him. Cairo emerges from a mist-covered, kudzu-choked forest in slow motion on multiple occasions. The location, the town, Cairo’s ancient manor, all of it is immersed in spirits, legends, and myths. Each line is so heavily laden that it becomes overwhelming—don’t we all know teenagers who speak like authentic teenagers and say things like, “I suppose you’re just another wealthy girl from a haunted ancestral mansion, like many others in your generation.” And, naturally, the characters frequently recite lengthy passages from renowned literary works purely from memory. Often, it intensifies the melodrama and extracts every ounce of sensuality from the situation, while at other times, it veers into self-parody.