miss stevens – julia hart

Rating: 5/5 ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ

In this lesser-known, but ultimately gut-wrenching film, Miss Stevens (Lily Rabe) and Billy (Timothรฉe Chalamet) deliver an intimate and heart-felt performance that makes us realize that a coming-of-age film doesn’t only have to be about teenagers after all.

The movie starts off with a back shot. The audience is shown standing up and clapping after a play has ended. A single woman stays behind, staring at the empty stage. A question is asked: “Are you waiting for someone?” A question that ultimately ties together the two main strands โ€” Miss Stevens’ memories of her mother and her budding friendship (I hesitate to use the word “relationship” here) with Billy.

What took me by surprise was the complete honesty of both the writing and acting. In one of the earlier scenes, when Billy comes to Miss Stevens’ room and jumps up on and down on her bed, and tells her “don’t be sad”. Miss Stevens, and the audience to some extent, initially feels the uncomfortableness of the situation, and jumps on the bed to tell Billy that she wasn’t sad. There is a moment of silence as the two stands still, but it is broken as Miss Stevens, following suite, also start to jump up and down on the bed. It is one of the rare moments when she forgets about her sadness, and simply enjoys being silly and in the moment. They chase each other around, and eventually to the terrace, where the previous silliness shifts to a much more solemn topic, and Miss Stevens tells Billy that her mother had died a year ago.

This is perhaps the first time that Miss Stevens allows herself to be vulnerable, to be Rachael. Billy stands there and listens, and he understands.

In the most climatical scene of the movie, when Billy drags Miss Stevens into a room and tells her that he’s nervous. He then continues to tell her when he was performing his monologue, he was thinking of how he could make her happy when she was sad. We are the same, is what Billy believes. As the viewer, we empathize with Billy, understands his position as a lonely high schooler who has found someone who he connects with. But we also understand the fine line he has been toeing and now finally crosses. The line that Miss Stevens is well aware when Billy calls her Rachael, when Billy first comes to find her in her room. When she asks Billy whether she needs to call somebody, it is not that she doesn’t understand him, but that she knows her responsibility. Even though she can’t hide the fact that she’s sad, she is still Billy’s teacher, and this is real life, so she makes the decision to call the principal. Billy is understandably upset about this, as his vision breaks, and walks out.

When I try to remember this movie, it feels like trying to hold water in your hands. The reason I think is that this movie isn’t flashy, it zeroes in on the upmost commonplace moments. The camera-work helps build a sense of intimacy between both the characters, and the audience with the characters. The lens is often only focused on the characters, blurring out the background. There are also a few scenes where the camera is hand-held, and shifts imperfectly between the characters’ faces.

As we come to the end, Billy tells Miss Stevens that “someone should take care of you too,” and as she watches her students walk away, the scene shifts back into the opening, where she stands alone in an empty theatre. The question arises, “Are you waiting for someone?” And really the answer is we all are. And in the end, we hold on to the hope there is someone waiting for us too.

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