Teacher as Chaperone
“Miss Stevens” is film that I openly identify with, especially when I think of the number of times I have escorted my students on trips. Miss Stevens (Lily Rabe) chaperones three of her students to a weekend drama competition. These include talented yet troubled Billy (Timothee Chalamet), the stuck up and intelligent micromanaging Margot (Lily Reinhart) and the openly and flamboyantly gay Sam (Anthony Quintal) – on a weekend trip to a drama competition. Exploring the fine line between being a grown up and being a kid, Miss Stevens is about students becoming teachers and teachers coming to realize that the messiness of youth never really goes away. Most teachers are authority figures because they are adults and thus can command and convey control over students even though not all students see their students in this manner.
Even on their worst days teachers need to keep up appearances, they cannot allow the slightest crack in the façade for to do so would often result in snarky, disrespectful behavior. “Miss Stevens” gives us a unique take on the teacher-student relationship in a sweet and through a charming story that brings comedy and drama together.
Miss Stevens is the English teacher at a California high school, teaching the literary classics to her students. She has reluctantly agreed to chaperone a trip of three students to a dramatic competition over the weekend. During the weekend, Margot must contend with the realization that she does not have the ability to plan every minute detail; Sam must deal with teenage relationship woes; and Billy has to face his infatuation with Miss Stevens, as well as his reputation of being a troublemaker. At the same time, Miss Stevens herself is dealing with some personal pain by consuming alcohol. Three days isn’t a long trip, but it certainly can feel like it when everyone is trying to keep himself or herself together.
This is a film in which the actors carry the film, and each performer is more than up to the task. Lily Rabe is able to convey every disparate emotion required with an amazing sense of naturalism. To balance out Rabe’s performance are the three strong performances from the trio of young actors, each excellent in their roles. Anthony Quintal is the more overtly comedic of the group as boisterous Sam. Lili Reinhart as the overachiever who devolves into an almost manic state when her intricate plans are met with the slightest resistance is excellent. The nuanced performance by Timothée Chalamet, whose character is the most troubled of the teens captures the spirit of so many disaffected teens, moody and full of angst as he tries to figure out his place in the world.
As a character, Miss Stevens doesn’t have everything in her life figured out. She’s a flawed character working through the issues that come with life. As a teacher, she’s not perfect but her heart is always in the right place and she puts forth the effort to be a better educator.
Julia Hart is a director for the first time and she is very good. Between the film’s framing and blocking of actors, the briskly paced editing, and strong performances, Julia Hart has a fine directorial debut. The story gives us the that anyone has it all together, even teachers. Life presents us with problems, some that we can prepare for and others we can’t and life is about how we face these.
The film hits such a large range of emotions and y you won’t have a chance to wipe away your tears before you start laughing. Not many movies can do that so effectively. Hart and co-screenwriter Jordan Horowitz effectively focus on small exchanges. Early on, while packed into a car with her trio of students, Miss Stevens hits something on the road and launches into obscenities, prompting one student, Sam, to observe that she curses a lot. She fires back, “We’re not at school,” to which Margot demurs, “But, like, we are.” The scene amuses for its play with logical certainty, but it also reminds us that school is an institution for learning, and that its information comes from a place of cultural stability and traditional values.