The little gem of an indie dramedy “Miss Stevens” slipped off our radar upon its theatrical release last week, but since it hit VOD on Tuesday, here’s a heads up about the film, and an exclusive clip to boot. Consider this our mini-review.
Julia Hart makes her directing debut with “Miss Stevens,” which she co-wrote with producer Jordan Horowitz. Hart wrote the script for the Civil War drama “The Keeping Room,” which was directed by Daniel Barber, and with “Miss Stevens,” she brings things into the contemporary world. Drawing on her experiences as a teacher, Hart manages to capture those uniquely intimate and complicated friendships that crop up between teachers and students.
Starring the excellent Lily Rabe (“American Horror Story”) as the titular teacher, the film takes place over a weekend field trip, with English teacher Miss Stevens escorting three of her students to a drama competition. One of them, Billy (Timotheé Chalamet, “One and Two”) is a wild card, a teen with an old soul and a behavioral disorder whom everyone warns Miss Stevens about, and for whom she can’t help but have a soft spot, despite her best efforts. Also packed into her old station wagon are Margot (Lili Reinhart) and Sam (Anthony Quintal).
The weekend is an escape from the prison of school, from their own contexts and identities, and each person has their own agenda for the trip, from winning the competition, to meeting new people, or just leaving their regular world behind for a few days. Miss Stevens and Billy clearly just want to get out of their own heads, a quest that gives them something very important in common.
Teacher and student are both carrying around a lot of weight, silent burdens that are obvious, if initially obtuse. Rabe does a masterful job of conveying Miss Stevens’ fragility, the emotions that are below the surface that she’s trying to hold together as the authority figure and one person responsible for these teenagers. When she finally releases her emotional burden in a moment of vulnerability with Billy, the scene is beautifully cathartic and cleansing.
Hart carefully finds the more unexpected moments to share onscreen. This is executed especially well in Miss Stevens’ tryst with Walter (Rob Huebel), a fellow teacher at the competition. Rather than showing what one might expect, Hart chooses just small, intimate, moments — a giggle outburst, a misguided compliment — to color in the nature of their strange and fleeting connection.
This testing and teasing and subversion of expectations is what makes “Miss Stevens” such a delight. The two powerhouse performances from Rabe and Chalamet (his “Death of A Salesman” competition monologue alone is worth the price of admission) are the heart of the film, layering spoken and unspoken truths among their idiosyncratic but completely relatable, deeply human interactions.
Check out an exclusive clip below of Chalamet and Rabe in “Miss Stevens,” and find the film on iTunes and Video On Demand.