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Review: Low-res road trip drama ‘Miss Stevens’ flunks out

Anthony Quintal, left, Timothée Chalamet and Lili Reinhart in "Miss Stevens."
(The Orchard)

Who doesn’t love a good movie about a devoted teacher who inspires his or her struggling students to achieve their dreams? Unfortunately, “Miss Stevens” is not that movie, especially when said teacher may be as troubled as her charges — maybe more so.

It’s tough to tell what director Julia Hart, who co-wrote with Jordan Horowitz, was aiming for with this underwhelming tale of Rachel Stevens (Lily Rabe), a high school English teacher who chaperones three star students to a statewide drama competition.

As a portrait of a seemingly unstable, often inappropriate young teacher haunted by her mother’s death, the script doesn’t infuse the title character with the depth, empathy or allure needed to power such a slight story. That Rabe (daughter of the late Jill Clayburgh and playwright David Rabe) proves so intriguing to watch is more a testament to her acting focus and stirring, lovely presence than to the dreary role she inhabits.

This same lack of dimension and distinction applies to Miss Stevens’ student travelers: talented if erratic Billy (Timothée Chalamet), tightly wound perfectionist Margot (Lili Reinhart) and gay, heart-on-his-sleeve Sam (Anthony Quintal). Their issues never amount to much, so resolution for each is, shall we say, low. As for the drama competition, it exists only in fits and starts.

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A fine use of the band America’s 1975 hit “Sister Golden Hair” evokes a warmth otherwise lacking here.

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‘Miss Stevens’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes

Playing: Sundance Sunset Cinemas, West Hollywood

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