One bad decision leads to another in this well-acted and sharply filmed comedy.
(This review is part of our coverage of the 2022 South by Southwest Festival)
Everything appears to be good to go for Millie (Ana Scotney), the eponymous lead of Millie Lies Low. As the film opens, she’s situated in her seat on an airplane, set to take her to a life-changing internship in New York City. But it quickly becomes apparent that something is very wrong: Millie’s breathing grows frantic, her eyes widen, her pores feel on fire. Soon enough, her tranquility has been replaced by screaming demands that she needs to get off this plane immediately.
Moments later, Millie is standing at a help desk in the airport, seeing about the possibility of getting a new ticket. Scoring a new flight will be a costly endeavor, so she’s going to need to seek out a loan. So begins a domino effect in Millie’s life, as she scrambles to get the resources she needs to secure another plane ticket without letting her friends and family know that she bolted from her original travel plans. What follows will rely heavily on deceptive Instagram posts and sneaking around, not to mention Millie having to confront some long-standing problems in her personal life.
Millie Lies Low is a domino effect movie, where one bad decision leads to another and another. The best of these features function like grisly horror films, as you’re glued to the screen yet compelled to cover your eyeballs to avoid seeing the mayhem onscreen. Though not reaching anywhere near the heights of this style of cinema, Millie Lies Low is a good reminder that uncomfortable filmmaking can also be extremely satisfying.
The core duplicity of Millie Lies Low is something Scotney handles extremely well.
Much of this comes from screenwriters Eli Kent and Michelle Savill (the latter of whom also directs) embracing heightened, yet not quite cartoonish, ways for Millie to conceal her vulnerabilities from her friends. The amount of effort she puts into fake Instagram posts or Skype call backdrops “set” in the Big Apple provides ample visual humor. Similarly entertaining and illuminating in terms of imagery is a ramshackle disguise, consisting of a motorcycle helmet and raincoat, that Millie puts on to avoid detection at a party attended by her pals. She looks like Daft Punk after a hard night of partying, yet she’s convinced she’s got foolproof concealment.
Committing to this trait isn’t just funny, but it effectively paints Millie’s almost addictive sense of denial, content to use her strength to push people away rather than be open about her mental health problems. Savill’s script proves more thoughtful in how it eventually reveals how all the seemingly perfect friends in Millie’s life are anything but. Everyone’s using a digital facade to convey the life they want, not the one they have. It’s a great way to provide thematic unity for the principal players.
The core duplicity of Millie Lies Low is something Scotney handles extremely well. In a massive departure from her memorable performance in The Breaker-Uppers, Scotney portrays Millie as someone who doesn’t think of herself as a schemer, but whose nonchalance is a performance that (badly) hides her subterfuge. That embrace of duality makes her performance exceedingly interesting to watch, the perfect anchor on which to hinge the whole thing.
If there’s a critical issue with Millie Lies Low, it’s an eventual detour in the third act that brings Millie’s home life, involving her mom (played by Rachel House), to the forefront. There are amusing gags in this stretch of the plot, but Millie was already such an interesting character that we didn’t need her upbringing spelled out for us. Adding more concrete details to this character’s past only detracts from the intrigue, when she worked just as well as a mystery.
Still, even going this direction with Millie’s character allows House to enter the proceedings, and it’s never a bad thing to have her around. Plus, this storytelling choice is the exception, not the rule when it comes to Millie Lies Low’s extended series of miscalculations. At the end of the day, Kent and Savill understand how to play cringe comedy just right, making viewers see themselves in a heavily flawed, yet compelling protagonist.