Looking Back at 2010s Films: Miss Stevens (2016)

8 Oct

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By Tanner Smith

Continuing my series of Looking Back at 2010s Films, I love movies that start out well enough on the first viewing and then grow into more appreciation after a few more viewings. (About half of my decade-end top-20 choices are among those movies!) I liked “Miss Stevens” fine when I first saw it, I showed it to my fiancee and enjoyed it a second time, and recently I played it in the background on Netflix and…my attention kept getting drawn towards it.

So much for the film that started out “fine” at first.

“Miss Stevens” is an indie road-movie about a high-school teacher (Rachel Stevens, played by Lily Rabe of “American Horror Story” fame) who chaperones three students to a state drama competition. One is Billy (Timothee Chalamet, who acted in this film just one year before his career breakthrough), who has a behavioral disorder and a crush on the teacher; one is Margot (Lili Reinhart), the organized and somewhat stuck-up one of the trio; and the other is Sam (Anthony Quintal), the sweet, chill one of the bunch. This is one of those weekend-that-changed-everything movies, as the teacher and the students bond over the weekend and learn important lessons and become better people and–you get the idea.

Actually, it is sweet, the way they find ways to relate to one another, even when Billy’s attempts at flirting are borderline creepy (but you have to remember, he’s just a teenager–and Miss Stevens lets him down easy). Billy learns to control his anger and channel it into his acting performance for the competition. Margot learns some rules are OK to break. Sam works up the courage to ask one of the other competitors out on a date. And Miss Stevens, or Rachel, learns to follow her own advice, as she needs to someone to help take care of her too.

A lot of the charm in this small but likable film comes from the actors. Lily Rabe won a Special Jury Award for her acting at SXSW, and it’s easy to see why–she’s caring but has her own problems, and she’s able to let us see both sides of the same person. It’s a wonderful balance she pulls off. And Timothee Chalamet is excellent as the most troubled of her students. I’m glad this guy’s career has taken off in a major way, with his accolades for “Call Me By Your Name” and whatnot, and is still giving him much to work with. Here, I genuinely believe him as a kid with so many issues built up inside of him that he’s able to unleash when in character during his competing representation of “Death of a Salesman.” (Eat your heart out, Dave Franco in “The Disaster Artist.”)

The film’s director is Julia Hart. Her next film, “Fast Color,” which was released earlier this year, is a gripping indie look at a superhero origin story. Her upcoming film, “Stargirl” (based on the novel of the same name), is coming to Disney Plus, so I’ll be interested in seeing that too.

“Miss Stevens” is still available on Netflix–check it out and see what you think…and then see it again.

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