After a successful run at this year’s South By Southwest Festival, Julia Stevens’ newest film “Miss Stevens” is about to be released in national theaters. It is genuine and funny, showcasing the talents of “American Horror Story” alumna Lily Rabe as an introverted English teacher who takes some of her students on a memorable trip to a drama competition. Rabe delivers a brand of natural awkwardness that comes off as very human and believable, which is a refreshing break from the quickly accelerating trend of characters that don’t contain much substance beyond their never-ending, in-your-face quirkiness.
Her interactions with other characters are painful to watch in the most delicious, relatable way. Her attempts at conversation are ridiculous and mainly just involve the other character spewing words in an attempt to fill the air. These moments don’t feel like filler, though — we ache with her. These people really ramble and we feel her pain as she tries to escape the noise. The constant attempts at small talk make the stand-out dramatic moments even more contrasting.
Rabe’s performance is complimented very nicely by the supporting cast; mainly, by the students that she chaperones (played by Timothee Chalamet, Lili Reinhart and Anthony Quintal). Their performances seem to be undeniable breakout material. The film practically serves as an acting reel for them. Chalamet in particular delivers, especially in a breathtaking monologue. He has a tremendous ability to relay emotional intensity, and the applause he’s awarded during his drama competition is likely to stir a similar response when audiences see the film in theaters. Given his youthful age — he is only 20 — it’s heartening to see such a tremendous performance knowing that Chalamet is only going to mature and get larger, better roles.
In terms of a soundtrack, “Miss Stevens” initially comes off as stellar on this front, too. However, the unfortunate truth is that about halfway through, one realizes that it’s really just “Sister Golden Hair” by America being played over and over again. Hearing the song the first time stirs childhood memories of long car rides, giving the film a heartwarming sentimentality. Hearing it the third and fourth time is slightly less effective. It’s a great song, but it is a missed opportunity for another artist’s song to be played, perhaps one that more aptly fits the moment being scored. Still, it’s hard to think of a better song to serve as this film’s main theme, and the repetition sort of makes “Miss Stevens” an instant classic, but in the forced way that isn’t wholly convincing.
“Miss Stevens” was released in theaters Friday, Sept. 16.
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