Review by Adam Donato
Jenna Ortega has wasted no time this decade becoming one of the most iconic “it” girls working today. From X to the Scream franchise, she has asserted herself as many people’s celebrity crush. There’s a subgenre of film whose specific purpose is to be visual softcore erotica, and Ortega is taking her swing at it with Miller’s Girl. Ortega is a passionate schoolgirl who begins a relationship with her teacher due to their mutual love of writing. This is Jade Halley Bartlett’s debut as a writer, director, and producer. With this kind of star power, does Bartlett have the juice to deliver a satisfying sexual awakening?
Ortega can’t control her height or cute face, but she can control the projects she chooses. The schoolgirl look is brought to life here as her character tries to pursue an older man for sex. It’s one thing for movies like The Voyeurs and My Policeman to be built around their sex appeal, as Sydney Sweeney and Harry Styles play consenting adults in their sex dramas. How is anyone supposed to indulge in their sexual fantasies of situations like Miller’s Girl without coming across as a total pedo? Ortega is a legal adult, so it’s fine for an adult to be attracted to her, but the nature of the context removes all sexual comfortability. It’s not sexy to watch an underage girl seduce a married middle-aged man. If the goal is to turn on the audience, Miller’s Girl fails.
The moral question the film begs about adolescent sexual fantasies is the most interesting aspect of the film. Ortega’s character is a child, so she cannot consent to sex, but that doesn’t change her feelings. The blame would then befall the parents who hold zero presence in their daughters life as she transitions into a young woman. Martin Freeman plays the teacher Ortega’s character with which is infatuated, and his character is not exactly innocent. He aids and abets his fellow teacher friend, who is openly courting a promiscuous student. Who could blame Freeman’s character as he shuts the situation down when it becomes too sexually charged? His pleasure in the situation seemed more so to derive from a place of appreciation for previously withheld recognition for his work, but it’s implied he has sexual feelings for his student, too. The moral of the story seems to be to not neglect parental duties, for the child’s pursuit of love may become misguided.
Ortega’s performance is nothing she hasn’t already done before. Fans of her work will find this role to be a lateral move. It doesn’t seem like she will be venturing outside her comfort zone anytime soon, though, as her next big project is the Beetlejuice sequel. While trying to withhold judgment, it feels problematic to portray Ortega’s character here as cool. She's certainly shown as a villainous character, but a cool one at that. Her character is not condemned in the way it should be as the context of the story is very troubling. Freeman is similarly uninspired. It feels like his role could be played by a litany of similar actors and it’s easy to wonder why Freeman would be the man to inspire such a sexual awakening. While Bashir Salahuddin’s character is the most reprehensible, his performance is the standout of the film as he brings life to every scene he participates in.
Miller’s Girl goes down a problematic path for a movie trying to arouse its audience. The moral dilemma at play is flirted with, but the story wraps up before anything is allowed to get really interesting. The goal of the film clearly is for Ortega to be portrayed as cool and hot. Check Miller’s Girl out if you’re a die-hard Jenna Ortega fan or if your kink is the Hobbit from the prequel trilogy. Other than that, steer clear of this one.
Miller's Girl hits theaters on January 26.