The best thing that a film like this can really carry itself on, for the rather short running time of a mere 86 minutes is the distinct feeling of being earnest. This film went under my own radar until I found it over on Netflix, and I decided that I may as well give it a shot to which I’m glad I did. Julia Hart’s debut film Miss Stevens leaves oneself waiting for what more she can put out within the future, because the gentleness of such a work is what leaves a positive feeling all throughout such a work, but at least it doesn’t keep itself limited to being just this. Sure, it doesn’t exactly move away from the American indie roots that it builds itself from, but I would be lying if I were to say that I didn’t find myself moved by this rather slight journey – and it turned out to be more than I would have asked for out of a film like this.
Lily Rabe stars as the titular Rachel Stevens, a high school teacher not too different from anyone else. She opts to take a group of high school students to a statewide drama competition. The students, Billy, Margot, and Sam, are played by Timothée Chalamet, Lili Reinhart, and Anthony Quintal. This would be any other road trip story, because in a sense it pretty much is, but I also did not expect this to become as much of a rollercoaster as it was. As common as it may be for a road trip movie to develop its characters as changing as they go from one place to another, the simplicity and care in the direction of Julia Hart keeps the ride worthwhile, because of how she and Jordan Horowitz form the relationships between Rachel and her own students – and it only becomes more touching from there.
Not all of this works, but at its best, it manages to elicit a smile. For as fantastic as Lily Rabe is as Miss Stevens, a teacher searching to find a bond that goes beyond her comfort zones, the real star of the picture is none other than Timothée Chalamet. As Billy, the broken student who is searching for only the best in his peers despite his troubled lifestyle, Chalamet’s role isn’t only one that captures from its simplicity but it’s also incredibly moving because of how much emotion he puts into the role to make himself feel relatable. But it was also something that I wish that I could have seen more from within this film, because I was never exactly bought over by Lili Reinhart’s role. I was never bought over because she just seemed to have so little to do compared to everyone else.
For as simple as Miss Stevens may be, it’s hard not to relate to the struggles of Miss Stevens herself, trying to find a level in which she can relate to her own students – because when you look at how she bonds together with Billy, you can already find the film’s best moments coming clear. At the end of the day, I was struck by how much care was placed into said relationship because it wasn’t so much like many other teacher-student relationships put on film, and it made the rather slight running time feel so much more than just merely rewarding. I would have only come into this movie based on its premise as being simple and cozy, I ended up getting a little more than I expected.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via The Orchard.
Directed by Julia Hart
Screenplay by Julia Hart, Jordan Horowitz
Produced by Michael B. Clark, Gary Gilbert, Jordan Horowitz, Alex Turtletaub
Starring Lily Rabe, Timothée Chalamet, Lili Reinhart, Anthony Quintal, Oscar Nunez, Rob Huebel
Release Year: 2016
Running Time: 86 minutes