In Hart’s film, Lily Rabe plays Rachel Stevens, a high school English teacher roped into taking three students to a drama competition. One of the students, Billy (Timotheé Chalamet) has not been focused at school and over the course of the weekend develops an inappropriate crush on his teacher. But this is not a story of a covert relationship that leads to scandal, thankfully. In the compressed timeline of three days, Hart puts Rabe in the most vulnerable place and we watch her struggle to find exactly how to relate to these students. Billy is on the verge of being a victim of the education system, it is her job to keep him invested in his learning and moving forward in his life. He’s also a great kid, smart and sensitive and going to be an amazing person when he grows up – if he can just get there. How can she help him do that without encouraging the other feelings he seems to be developing?
MISS STEVENS is Julia Hart’s debut as a director, although she wrote the neo-feministic western thriller THE KEEPING ROOM which featured some other very strong women put in an impossible place, but is an entirely different film. With MISS STEVENS, Hart effortless moves between comedy and drama and allows each character to slowly grow from scene to scene. By the end of the film you feel like you’ve been on the road trip as well, and lived through all these experiences. I remembered the best part of teaching, which is investing in someone else’s success. As a film programmer, I feel I still get to do that, when I discover a new talented filmmaker and help them take their career to the next level. As a teacher, you are doing that when they are the most susceptible to defeat. With each of her students hitting an unexpected low over the weekend, Miss Stevens has to be there to help them through, as a confidant, as a cheerleader, as a counselor, and yes, as a friend, she pulls joy (or at least acceptance) from the jaws of despair. Lily Rabe is dynamic and unforgettable in this role, and each of the students shine as well, stealing a bit of the spotlight as they hit their emotional peak. Rabe, as Stevens, must try to keep calm in the madness around her, and find a way to be herself, in a place where she really has no peers.
It’s a great film. An unexpected gem that touches on a reality that I think few people know, but now can experience. Thank you Julia Hart.