Jenna Ortega beguiles but "Miller's Girl" is full of tedious, flowery self-importance

Miller's Girl (2024)

At first blush, "Miller’s Girl" seems like another variation on "Poison Ivy," "The Crush," or "Chloe" with a beguiling Jenna Ortega. In a way, it could be “The Hand That Rocks the Curriculum,” only filled with flowery prose and pointless ambiguity cluttering up an erotic drama. Writer-director Jade Halley Bartlett’s film debut does cook up a lurid tension within its Southern Gothic setting with actors who are willing to take chances with thematically provocative material. Unfortunately, those chances don’t really pay off with this well-photographed but tedious hokum that doesn’t seem to have a handle on its takeaway. 

Living by herself in Tennessee while her parents are permanently abroad, 18-year-old student Cairo Sweet (Ortega) is clearly wise beyond her years in an intellectual sense. She’s already read the long list of suggested books before school even starts, which goes a long way toward impressing her English teacher, Jonathan Miller (Martin Freeman), a washed-up writer who hasn’t written anything recently. Cairo and Mr. Miller do develop a friendship off-campus, but it’s more of a mentorship, plus the occasional sharing of a cigarette. When Mr. Miller gives Cairo a head start on a mid-term assignment that calls for her to write a short story in the style of her favorite author, Cairo chooses the sexually candid Henry Miller. Mr. Miller is, however, not prepared for her taboo, increasingly pornographic story that could very well be about him. Was there an actual seduction that took place, or is Cairo’s short story just a fantasy? Has he crossed a line? Has Cairo made him cross it? 

This all reads like the summary of a Lifetime Original Movie — or, maybe now, it’s a movie made by Marvista Entertainment. But “Miller’s Girl” seems to have loftier pretenses, blurring the line between truth and writing assignment, as well as between victim and villain. Just by her clunky voice-over, Cairo waxes philosophical to an obnoxiously overwritten extreme: “Lonely girl longs to be meaningful. Lonely girl longs to be loved. Books make longing seem romantic, but it’s awful. It’s greedy. And I wear longing like a fucking veil.” Now, just imagine characters speaking like this all of the time as if trying to impress an acclaimed writer. Read the full review at

Grade: C -

Lionsgate released "Miller's Girl" (93 min.) in select theaters on January 26, 2024.