Occasionally a film comes along where both the writing and the acting strike such a magical chord that you lose yourself in the sublime beauty of the movie and the performance. Millie Lies Low is one of those films, and Ana Scotney as its titular character turns in one of the most refreshing performances to hit the screen this year. Director Michelle Savill, who also co-wrote the film with Eli Kent, culls from her own personal experience to serve up the character of Millie in great fashion. If Millie seems familiar, that’s because she’s somebody we all can relate to.
The plot is relatively straightforward: Girl gets in a mess. Girl braves that mess. Girl tries to get out of that mess. Follow along. Millie has a panic attack on an airplane at the Wellington airport and disembarks before the flight takes off to New York City. Bad move. She has to get to New York because she’s been offered a sweet but highly competitive architecture internship. What to do? Spiraling through a major freak-out, she takes to posting content on social media to make it appear as if everything is going as planned. There’s that dreamy picture of an airplane views and, eventually, an alley photo to represent the Big Apple. From there, she plots to generate enough cash to pay for the expensive last-minute ticket to New York. The initial set-up unfolds with swift ease, a good thing because Savill’s premise and writing immediately lure you in and keep you invested in this engaging comedy/drama.
A Debut Film to Relish
Michelle Savill hails from New Zealand and Millie Lies Low is her debut feature film. The story is based on her own real-life experiences attempting to fly to France for a film festival in conjunction with the short film Ellen Is Leaving. She arrived a day late for that fated flight, missing it completely, and through the burning shame, began posting content online to make it appear as if everything was fine. The big difference in this film, is that Millie is a wannabe architect who suddenly feels as if she’s derailed her entire future.
For the most part, Savill keeps the camera mostly on Scotney’s Millie as she bops along here. Millie secretly makes her way back to the city, fretting every step of the way. She calls a friend to see if she can pay her for the car Millie sold her earlier than planned. No go. Millie sneaks back into her architecture school in a desperate attempt to find another way back to New York. Doesn’t work. As these emotionally charged scenes unravel, somewhere along the way, Millie’s push to surf through it all devolves into a fake-social-media posting calamity. Curiously, she becomes, if not hypomanic, then thoroughly excited about the whole mess. She’s lost in her own fantasy. But can she find her way out?
What a joy it is to watch our dear Millie spin out of control. Scotney fully embodies the role, disappearing into it with equal doses of spunk and depth. This is one actress to watch. There’s a “there” there, and this actor truly commands the screen.
Thoroughly Madcap Millie
Millie Lies Low also stars Jillian Nguyen, Chris Alosio, Sam Cotton, Karen O’Leary, and Rachel House, who delivers a fine turn as Millie’s mum. One of the more standout scenes between Scotney and House involves a Philippine folk dance Millie’s mum forces her daughter to do. Even here, we see more of Millie’s wobbly emotional world. How spot on it is.
Throughout this entertaining ride, filmmaker Michelle Savill aptly captures the human condition and the insecurities we all seem to have. And perhaps share. Millie is the everyman/woman/person in so many ways. And in an era where nothing seems real unless it lives online in some fashion, especially on a social media site, the modern human being tends to feel empty, alone, confused, and anxious. This is an extraordinary and grounded film that manages to capture all that without coming across as preachy.
As the film enters its final act, and Millie is losing options, the audience becomes invested in this cringe-worthy and thoroughly engaging ride. Watch how well screenwriters Savill and Kent wind up surprising you with how things eventually roll. Scotney enlivens the screen at every turn too, of course. And there’s something about the pacing, beats, and emotional atmosphere of Millie Lies Low that stands out, making it something of a special pleasure. Bravo to all and here’s to Savill, who will undoubtedly generate buzz with this jewel of a debut.
Millie Lies Low, opens June 30 in New York City, followed by a wider theatrical and VOD release.