Coming off of a successful festival run, including a Best Actress win for Lily Rabe at this year’s SXSW Film Fest, “Miss Stevens” is finally hitting select theaters Friday, September 16th. This tightly knit independent film is Julia Hart’s directorial debut, and although she may not have many hits on her IMDb page (past credit includes screenwriter of “The Keeping Room”), Hart puts her uniquely understated directorial style on display in “Miss Stevens.”
29-year-old high school English teacher Miss Stevens (Lily Rabe) is clearly going through a personal crisis, but nevertheless, is obligated to chaperone the drama club as they enter a weeklong competition. Trying not to let her worries bring her down, she actively engages in conversation with the three students during the hours-long car ride. Margot (Lili Reinhart) the overachiever and Sam (Anthony Quintal) the flamboyant talkative one, begin to develop a special personal relationship with Miss Stevens, but it is Billy (Timothée Chalamet) the slacker, who ends up taking his feelings to the next level. With her emotional guard down, Miss Stevens finds comfort in Billy’s charm. Despite not being romantically interested in him, she soon realizes that this source of happiness is causing the lines betweenstudent/teacher relationship to get blurred.
The storyline is simple enough, and no, Miss Stevens is not a modern day Mrs. Robinson. She is a woman with troubled thoughts, although it takes well over the first 50 minutes to figure out just what her struggles are. Until we reach that clarity, there is consistent questioning as to what her story is, which becomes a bit tiring. Stevens often comes off as disinterested and distracted and if our main character doesn’t even seem to be invested in her life, it’s difficult for the audience to care. However, the film does hit its stride after the revelation and subsequent reactions from those around her. Strong performances from Chalamet and Reinhart add liveliness and charisma, a perfect balance to Rabe’s passiveness.
For as relatively little experience in the industry as Julia Hart has, she’s managed to create an emotionally palpable movie that is relatable to anyone who remembers their favorite grade school teacher. Realizing that teachers had lives outside of the classroom (and even first names!) was a concept that seemed incomprehensible, and Hart executes this feeling exceptionally. With an underlying theme of lack of funding for the arts, this film hits all the right notes. It may not come off as very warm or funny despite its being billed as a comedy, yet “Miss Stevens” is a satisfying film both in front of and behind the camera.
“Miss Stevens” is not rated. 86 minutes. Opening at the Sundance Sunset this Friday and will be available on VOD September 20th.