‘She’s a literalist, she’s powerful, and she’s positively gothic’

Luci O’Donnell reviews Miller’s Girl, an erotic new thriller starring Martin Freeman and Jenna Ortega 4 stars.

(Image: Zac Popik)

Wild Things and Oleanna are an uneasy mix, but that’s kind of the pitch here for this “almost” erotic thriller that has arrived during a moment when the subgenre is in danger of becoming a footnote in cinema. 

Miller’s Girl is a handsome looking film, offering some of the Southern Gothic flair that Zalman King was so fond of. 

There is an undeniable mystique and genuine seductiveness to the visual aesthetics. Based on the reviews I’ve read, Miller’s Girl is more often stymied by the pretensions and clichés associated with most films about writers and literary professors. As much as I love those passionate and flowery reviews, I will say I’m glad I decided to give this movie a go despite everything I’d seen online. 

Yet, I have mixed feelings towards when movie characters quote each other’s vacuous purple prose verbatim.

Despite some of those cringeworthy exchanges, the talented cast get to shine. Martin Freeman has some baggage for me, as I mostly know him as the schlub from season one of Fargo or as Bilbo Baggins. In fairness, he seems fully invested and rises above his possible miscasting in his more confrontational scenes, especially when he’s alone with Jenna Ortega. Ortega’s precociousness fills the screen with energy as she positively relishes her role.

Ortega’s character “Cairo” takes her pain and turns it into a weapon; at first glance it’s implied that she’s the villain of this story but beneath the surface you start to understand that she’s not a villain at all; she’s just a woman utilising the power she has in ways that she hadn’t thought possible.

Cairo Sweet, despite her name, can be bitter. She’s smart and bold; she knows exactly what she’s doing. She’s a literalist, she’s powerful, and she’s positively gothic. 

When Cairo finally crosses the line and becomes the “virgin c***” villainess of her own revenge porn fiction, we know that Miller’s Girl has very much arrived.

I do wish it leaned a bit more into the Poison Ivy era naughtiness that’s been largely abandoned by the mainstream market in this sexually complacent age of the likes of OnlyFans and Pornhub. At the same time, it’s disappointing for those of us who recall some of the bolder and more transgressive pre-streaming arthouse flicks about booksmart horniness, like Todd Solondz’s Storytelling and Phillip Kaufman’s Henry & June.

Slender gripes aside, this is not a bad feature debut. It didn’t overstay its welcome either, which is rare of late.

“I cannot say whether or not I am grateful for the experience, for the knowledge. The felicity of youth has been ripped from me like skin and exposed as I am, sore and open as I am, I can feel it shape me into something new. Hero. Villain. Writer. Grown…from the human ruins of a mad man’s love.”

The matter of the film is vulgar, but it portrays how for centuries, women from a young age have been set up to marry young and marry rich. The rich were likely old and, yes, we realised the disparity in level of maturity that presented so we put a law around it. But, did we really accept it just to make it disappear?

Men (not all) will always reach for naivete and anything out of reach like dogs to a bone. They manipulate and pretend, it was only a matter of time before a woman like Cairo reciprocated.

The feeling of wanting to be seen is something we can all understand; it fuels something in your own ego and satisfies it -I understand completely.

Jonathan’s (Freeman’s) wife is smarter than the drunk he plays her out to be.

Just about everyone is smarter than him. He fears it but refuses to accept it. So are we really that shocked when he seeks out a student, someone he should be smarter than? 

This has become one of my favourite movies. A film of Tennessee, teens, literature, and of course teacher x student ‘romance’ (if it can be classified as such). What a captivating setting. 

I could add more but do l really need to or have you already pressed play?

One thought on “‘She’s a literalist, she’s powerful, and she’s positively gothic’

  1. Very insightful, the genre is between erotic and thriller, which the review has highlighted perfectly

Comments are closed.