5 Oct 2022

At The Movies - Millie Lies Low

From At The Movies, 7:30 pm on 5 October 2022

Millie Lies Low is a comedy-drama about a young Kiwi woman who panics just before leaving for her dream job in New York. Can she fool her friends into thinking that she's in the Big Apple? 

The film looks great but walks a fine line between quirk and bleakness, says Simon Morris.

Kiwi filmmaker Michelle Savill draws on a lot of her own life, apparently, in her debut feature - not least the fact that she made a flying start as "someone to watch" and clearly started to feel the pressure to deliver on that promise.

After several well-received shorts, she's moved up to the top table with Millie Lies Low.

Listen - Michelle Savill on her film Millie Lies Low

Millie is another potential high-flyer - a would-be architect heading for an internship at a prestigious firm in New York City.

But the moment she gets on the plane, she has a massive panic attack and has to get off.

Unable to face anyone with the shameful truth, she decides to hide it from her family, her friends, even the sponsors of the trip. She'll lie low and work out what to do.

Meanwhile, she sends posts on social media, pretending she made it to the Big Apple and is having the world's greatest time.

Millie is played by Ana Scotney - so touching in the film Cousins - and she's very good, essentially carrying the entire film on her shoulders.

But while the setup sounds the basis for easy laughs - how many ways can Millie fool her friends that she's in New York? - as the film continues, the jokes become fewer and further between.

As the money runs out, she steals a car - all right, borrows it - as collateral for a loan shark, and seduces her old teacher for somewhere to crash.

There's a fine line between black comedy and just bleak, and Millie Lies Low doesn't always walk it comfortably.

Is Millie suffering from perfectly common imposter syndrome, or did she really get that internship under false pretences? And her prickly relationship with her mother - Rachel House, brilliant as always - reflects some mutual guilt about Millie's unhappy childhood.

Now there's nothing wrong with some dark tones in a comedy. But here they threaten to swamp the story.

Millie finds herself wandering round the back alleys of Wellington, desperately avoiding anywhere she might be seen by someone who'd know her and trying to raise money to actually get to the New York she pretends to be conquering.

At the heart of the film is how Millie sees herself. Does she want to get back on that horse, or would she prefer to let it go?

She's overcome with the feeling that she's letting everyone else down too, not just herself. And that's an uncomfortable plot point that's going to need resolving.

It looks great, it sounds great, it's full of inventive scenes - heavy on millennial "cringe comedy", which I'm not a huge fan of - and potentially appealing characters.

But even the best scenes between Ana Scotney and Rachel House suffer because I'm not clear how I'm meant to be reacting. LOL or SOS?

I was reminded of other movies about faking it - particularly an old German comedy called Goodbye Lenin, where a son had to hide from his Mum the stressful news that the Berlin Wall had fallen.

And because the setup for Millie Lies Low seems to promise a straight, albeit quirky, comedy, it's doubly disturbing when it resolutely refuses to give us more than the mildest of happy endings.

The fact is, people will tolerate a film that's not as tragic as they were expecting. They may even welcome it. But woebetide a film that doesn't deliver an expected comedy.

Get the RNZ app

for easy access to all your favourite programmes

Subscribe to At The Movies

Podcast (MP3) Oggcast (Vorbis)