AND here’s to you, Miss Stevens. Timothée Chalamet loves you more than you will know, wo wo wo.
Julia Hart’s 2016 film Miss Stevens has a tinge of Mrs Robinson as a 29-year-old English teacher (played by Lily Rabe) takes three students on a school trip. Prim-and-proper Margot (Lili Reinhart), lively Sam (Anthony Quintal) and troubled Billy (Timothée Chalamet) hop into Miss Stevens’ car en-route to a drama competition.
Almost as soon as they hit the road, the lines between Miss Stevens and Rachel Stevens begin to blur. Much to the surprise of her students, she turns from polite teacher to sweary adult and – later at dinner – shares a childhood story about kissing another girl on stage. Another glass of wine only loosens Miss Stevens’ lips further.
Yet as Miss Stevens flirts with a married man at the welcoming disco, Hart cuts to yearning glances from Billy – signs of a growing infatuation with his attractive teacher that the high-schooler makes little effort to hide. Hart’s film follows the trip as emotionally vulnerable spirits Miss Stevens and Billy find comfort in each other’s company. But will their relationship stumble into something inappropriate?
Chalamet is excellent as Billy. You can see the roots of his work with a character that has the innocent desire of Elio in Call Me By Your Name and the enigmatic distance of Kyle in Lady Bird. Chalamet has that artsy-boy-smoking-round-the-back-of-the-bike-sheds vibe – and Hart draws directly from this with shots of Billy smoking sitting atop a car. Ever the recherché and cool figure.
It will be fascinating to see what path Chalamet’s career will take when age starts to weather this appeal.
Rabe is equally impressive as the damaged Miss Stevens, especially when she delivers monologues about her past. One where she talks about her deceased mother, once a talented actor, is particularly engulfing – in both writing and delivery. It speaks to the masks we all have to wear – whether we are an actor or a teacher – and how sometimes they can slip to expose our true selves.
This notion is the heartbeat of Hart’s film as it looks at the masks we all wear and the images of ourselves we project in everyday life. For Miss Stevens, she must work out where the caring teacher ends and the slightly malfunctioning adult begins.
There is nothing to blow you away here, but Miss Stevens is just a solid and thoughtfully put together film.This was review 21/30 in April’s Close-up Culture Monthly Film Challenge – Female Filmmakers.