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'Miller's Girl' movie controversy: What have actors said about the age gap?

Jenna Ortega and Martin Freeman play a high school student and teacher with an boundary-crossing bond.

Warning: This story contains spoilers for “Miller’s Girl.”

Jenna Ortega’s new movie, “Miller’s Girl,” is starting a conversation about age gap relationships, consent and media depictions of both. Released in theaters this past January, the movie quickly charted after dropping on Netflix in April. 

The movie’s plot line has drawn interest and scrutiny. 

In it, high schooler Cairo Sweet (Ortega) has an inappropriately close bond with her English teacher, Mr. Miller (Martin Freeman). The film takes a close look at blurred lines in relationships and what happens when boundaries aren’t fully set, especially between people with a power differential.

That’s exactly what drew Freeman to the plot, he said in an interview.  

“When I read the script, I was like, 'OK, a gutsy script,' because it’s very uncomfortable and there are things in it which are not cut and dry, and not black and white,” Freeman told Collider of the movie in August 2023. “Certainly, there are conversations around it, at the moment and over the last several years, particularly. It comes into a world where those conversations are being had, slightly from left field, and says, ‘Yes, what about this?’ It’s interesting.”

Read on to find out more about "Miller’s Girl's" reception.

What is ‘Miller’s Girl’ about?

Ortega’s character, Cairo Sweet, is an ambitious young woman, primed to become a valedictorian of her Tennessee high school. But she’s bored and feels unaccomplished, especially when applying to Yale.  

“I am 18 and entirely unremarkable,” Cairo says at the beginning of the film.

She sees her best friend, Winnie (Gideon Adlon), flirt with another teacher at the school, simply for the advantages it brings her. This inspires her to do the same with her married English teacher, Jonathan Miller, who seems to be infatuated. 

Cairo writes a midterm paper emulating the work of the provocative writer Henry Miller, who wrote in detail about his sexual exploits. She turns in her own explicit paper with the title, “For Jonathan. Love, Cairo.”

As Jonathan reads the paper, the movie plays out a sex scene between the two. It’s implied Jonathan is imagining the sequence.

Jonathan responds by cutting her off and ending their relationship. “I’m not going to indulge this,” he says, referring to her paper and their relationship.

Aggravated by his sudden loss of interest in her, Cairo decides to report him to the school’s vice principal and school board as revenge.

“You cannot identify the line. So you cross it,” Jonathan’s friend, also a teacher (who also flirts with students), tells him. “You are the adult. Show some responsibility.” 

Cairo calls Mr. Miller’s downfall her “her greatest achievement to date.”

Why has ‘Miller’s Girl’ inspired backlash and conversation?

“Miller’s Girl” contains a sex scene between Ortega and Freeman who were 19 and 50 at the time of filming.

Further, the movie frames Cairo as the villain since she seems hellbent on revenge. Even her friend asks her not to “ruin his life.”

“And for what? To avenge your rejection?” she said. 

People reacted to the movie's premise before its release.

What has the cast of ‘Miller’s Girl’ said about the movie?

Freeman defended the movie in an interview with The Sunday Times, calling it “grown-up and nuanced. He said, “It’s not saying: ‘Isn’t this great?’”

Freeman added that it’s “a shame” that movies get backlash for telling difficult stories.

“Are we gonna have a go at Liam Neeson for being in a film about the Holocaust?” he said.

Online, some agreed with Freeman's quotes, writing: “The age gap was ... the entire point. We have to stop validating people who do cultural criticism without actually consuming the work.”

As for the sex scene, “Miller’s Girl” intimacy coordinator, Kristina Arjona, told the Daily Mail that Ortega was very involved in how the scene was done and she said there weren’t any “boundaries surpassed.”

“There was many, many people throughout this process, engaging with (Jenna) to make sure that it was consistent with what she was comfortable with, and she was very determined and very sure of what she wanted to do,” Arjona said.