Reviewing: Miss Stevens (2016)

The main characters of "Miss Stevens".

Courtesy of The Orchard. 

Julia Hart’s Miss Stevens was a movie that piqued my interest a while ago. The cast of both well-known and rising actors assembled was top-notch, and the story sounded interesting: a young high school English teacher is tasked with bringing three students to a drama competition, and one of the  more questionably stable students  feels he has a deep connection to her. I was expecting some slightly intense drama, some snippets of dark comedy, and a good deal of warmth from the characters. While it doesn’t quite go to the darker places I thought it would, Miss Stevens succeeds in creating moments that feel authentic, as well as fully fleshed out characters to inhabit them.

Lily Rabe is the titular Miss (Rachel) Stevens, a withdrawn and slightly awkward teacher who acts as chaperone for three of her students attending a state drama competition: Margot (Lili Reinhart), a type-A overachiever; Sam (Anthony Quintal), an openly gay student; and Billy (Timothee Chalamet), a charming yet anti-social student who seems to have a strange fascination with his teacher.

From left to right: Billy (Timothee Chalamet), Rachel Stevens (Lily Rabe), Sam (Anthony Quintal), and Margot (Lili Reinhart).

Courtesy of The Orchard. 

As the weekend goes on, we the audience get to know more about Rachel as a character, as she relates stories about her acting days to her students and has an awkward sexual encounter with another teacher, who happens to be married (Rob Huebel). But the scenes with her and Billy are the ones that pack a good amount of the emotion and the strangeness of their relationship. Chalamet really excels in these scenes, as we’re treated to the many facets of his character’s personality; he truly lights up the screen with a palpable energy. But this isn’t to detract from Rabe, who shines in her own way. She subtly maintains Rachel’s awkward yet caring personality on the outside, though she’s no slouch when it comes to opening up her character and revealing her hurt interior.

As I said, this film wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be. But maybe that isn’t such a bad thing.  It’s good to be surprised by a film every once in a while (and it should be the case more often, in my opinion), and this film did just that. A fine cast, an intelligent script, and a competent director at the helm make this an entertaining and thought-provoking watch.

Sam (Anthony Quintal), joining in on a hug between Billy (Timothee Chalamet) and Margot (Lili Reinhart).

Courtesy of The Orchard.

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