Released in theaters last month, “Miller’s Girl” would be a love story — if not for the fact that it’s between a minor and an adult twice their age.
If the film had handled the trope delicately and with complexity, it would have certainly racked up awards and earned the praise of critics. If it correctly highlighted the sickening power dynamic of an age-gap relationship, the long drive to one of the few theaters screening the movie would have been worth it.
But within five minutes, the film completely ruins that potential greatness by implying that female high school seniors are alluring, seductive sirens that capture the hearts of unsuspecting, innocent men.
Cairo Sweet (Jenna Ortega) — the lead — is the picture of a young woman who becomes infatuated with an older, more experienced man. She smokes cigarettes and laughs at danger as she takes long walks in a forest. After all, to her, she’s “the scariest thing in there.”
Jonathan Miller (Martin Freeman) — the love interest — is a modest, righteous teacher with a passion for writing who is tied to an overworked, disinterested wife. He finds Sweet to be a kindred spirit with a mind beyond her years.
Apparently, age is just a number and jail’s just another place.
It’s hard to ignore these red flags, especially when the movie waves them around so confidently. The raunchy jokes, and the tense close-up camera shots of the two main leads staring at each other don’t make the plot any less unsettling.
But all that pales in comparison to the scene where Winnie Black (Gideon Adlon) — Sweet’s best friend — advises her to pursue Mr. Miller romantically, saying, “We’re…young girls with ambivalent sexualities. I don’t want to drop [my virginity] for some random jock…That’s [like] deli meat. I want a dry, aged, marbled, hot man to take me to pleasure town.”
The monologue tried to be sophisticated, but only succeeded in proving that vegetarianism might be a good idea.
The plot’s only redeeming quality is that the relationship between the two characters doesn’t become consensual.
When Sweet confesses her obsession through submitting an erotic creative writing assignment, Mr. Miller vehemently denies romantic affections, saying, “You are a student, and I am your teacher. That is all.”
Thankfully, nothing physical or sexual happens.
Unfortunately, the film takes a turn for the worst when Sweet becomes the villain of the story and ruins Mr. Miller’s life with false accusations because he didn’t return her affections.
It is at this point when the unrealistic plot is no longer so-bad-it’s-funny. It’s so bad, it’s disgusting.
For this film to succeed, it had to explicitly show just how terrible this trope was. It needed to recognize who the true villains were. Mr. Miller should have been a manipulative authority figure who took advantage of a minor. Cairo Sweet should have been just a teenager who didn’t “ask for it.”
It had the potential to be a voice for survivors.
That it was not is a huge disappointment.
Mylien Lai is the assistant arts editor and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mylien Lai is an assistant arts editor at The Spectrum. Outside of getting lost in Buffalo, she enjoys practicing the piano and being a bean plant mom. She can be found at @my_my_my_myliennnn on Instagram.