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  • Writer's picturezandaleeindigo

How Miss Stevens Packages Authenticity

One of my favorite movies, as well as the movie I consider to have my favorite Timothée Chalamet performance is Julia Hart's directorial debut, Miss Stevens. I watched it for the first time about two years ago and it has not left my top four on Letterboxd since. I gave it a rewatch yesterday and think I finally pinpointed exactly why a movie that seems to be underwhelming to most impacted me as much as it did. It's because it feels authentic and real.

The film follows three students and their teacher, Miss Stevens, on a weekend trip to a drama competition for their school. It's partially what I would consider a slice of life film with a bigger focus on Miss Stevens relationship with Billy, Chalamet's character, a troubled youth with serious talent. There are definitely themes of mental health and grief throughout the movie but I feel as though it really conveys theatre as a great unifier between a multitude of people with different struggles, and that's beautiful to me.

As someone who's done theatre most of my life this movie feels very familiar to me. All three of the students are very different people, Sam being a likable gay kid struggling with his love life, Margot an overachiever, and Billy who's seen as a slacker and a bit standoffish all coming together to act is very reminiscent of my high school theatre experience. Our casts always consisted of very different people from every corner of the school, united by our one passion. Julia Hart does what I think is an amazing job not only with the development of these characters, but with the competition itself to capture the essence of any of these theatre events. From depicting them doing breathing exercises the very first day of the competition, to somehow being able to bottle the feeling of watching your friend/castmate forget their lines (I cringe every time!) this film feels very grounded in reality.

There's also a lot of subtle characterization, even through theatre, in this movie. Some things as small as Margot and Sam texting while sitting across from each other at dinner takes me back to high school and tells me so much about their characters' relationships and how close they are. The use of monologues, specifically the Tuna Fish monologue Sam recites in the car, really stuck out to me on this watch of the movie. Not only had I almost used that monologue for an audition recently, but I also recognized how Billy recognizing and being familiar with Christopher Durang's work informs us about him as a person----being into dark comedy and things like that.

The movie was also shot in a way that felt very theatrical. It had a script that felt like on it could be a play. It doesn't have crazy flashy camera work or editing (except a few abrupt cuts between scenes) and that doesn't detract from the film at all, in fact I think it works in favor of it. Normally I love good cinematography and editing in a movie but in Miss Stevens, the simplicity allows the acting to really shine. There are long shots of characters just walking and talking, and it really feels like we're watching two people just have a conversation. And during the theatre competition there's a long pullback shot of Billy doing Biff's monologue from Death of a Salesman that I found particularly powerful, probably why it's my favorite performance of Timothée's to date.

Nowhere does the acting shine more though than in the scene where Billy senses his beloved teacher is upset and attempts to cheer her up. It's the point in the movie when I cry every time, not simply because of the sweet moment the two share jumping on the bed and laughing together but because of Lily Rabe's raw performance two minutes later.

The pair make their way out on the balcony, Rachel (Miss Stevens) is wrapped in Billy's hoodie and he asks her if she ever had her heart broken. She replies she has, when her mother died a year prior. When Billy genuinely wants to know more about her, Rabe breaks in to one of the most heartbreaking monologues I've ever seen. Explaining her mother was an amazing actress, and now that she's gone theatre is really hard for her.

It's once again affirming that theme of theatre being a great unifier, and how it means something very different to everyone. It's extremely powerful and I believe is something that anyone who's ever been a theatre kid can really relate to and feel connected to. The theatre is full of people looking for so many things, acceptance, release, escapism, and the way we all are able to find whatever it is we need together is so unbelievably cool. At least, I think so.

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