The screen practically emanates with desire as “Miller’s Girl” navigates its way through steamy conversations and a humorously spot-on soundtrack. The camera takes on a dreamy quality whenever Cairo Sweet, the provocatively named linchpin of the film portrayed by Jenna Ortega, activates her pout, especially during moments of chewing or smoking. It’s worth noting that either of these activities is preferable to her talking.
And talk she does, with her pretentious narration proving as grating as her precocious reading habits. Cairo, a trust-fund teenager with absentee parents and access to a Southern mansion, arrives at her high-school writing class having already devoured everything on the syllabus. Jonathan Miller, her professor (awkwardly played by Martin Freeman, who seems to have lost his professional bearings along with his English accent), is understandably captivated. Jonathan, a struggling writer lacking both literary inspiration and behavioral boundaries, becomes an easy target for Cairo’s seductive charm.
“Miller’s Girl,” crafted by Jade Halley Bartlett, is promoted as a psychological thriller, but its emptiness and silliness overshadow any attempt at depth. The film, a glaring work of artifice, traps talented actors in a haze of pheromones and clichés. Bugs crawl on windowsills, and a lit cigarette lazily drifts to the floor, creating a setting that titillates but fails to offer substance. Jonathan’s disappointed wife (Dagmara Dominczyk) moves about in various states of undress and sobriety, reminiscent of one of Tennessee Williams’s tragic heroines. Meanwhile, Cairo’s best friend (the standout Gideon Adlon) lusts after a baseball coach (played jovially by Bashir Salahuddin), who reciprocates the desire. Unsurprisingly, Cairo’s favorite author is Henry Miller.