And we’re back! For once, we’re actually AT a film festival rather than sitting at home just watching what publicists provide; we’re live and kicking at the world’s biggest arts festival in Scotland’s capital city. And after over a decade in the wilderness, the Edinburgh International Film Festival is finally back in the fray in the original August slot which was its home since 1947, and in fine fettle. One programme highlight is Michelle Savill’s directorial debut Millie Lies Low, an accomplished New Zealand comedy/drama that’s won friends on the festival circuit and seen here shortly before its UK release on Aug 22. If you like the vibe of Taita Waititi, you’ll want to catch up with this, but Savill’s film has its own unique voice as well as a blistering performance from Ana Scotney.
Scotney was previously seen in the Waititi executive-produced The Breaker Upperers, and alongside Melissa McCarthy in Netflix series God’s Favourite Idiot, but give her a complex lead role and she absolutely nails in to the floorboards. Scotney plays the Millie of the title, a headstrong, spirited, ingenious but deeply flawed character who engages our sympathy at every turn. After planning a trip from Wellington to New York to take up an architecture internship, Millie suffers a panic attack on the plane, and returns home without telling friends and family the truth, setting up camp in a tent.
That’s a funny ‘fake it till you make it’ premise for a start, and the killer lines are there to back it up; it’s genuinely funny when Millie rails against her mother’s ‘culturally appropriated dance’ or when Millie plaintively says “Sorry to be such a disappointment to you mum’ only for her mom to matter-of-factly respond. ‘We can’t all be -appointments’. Waititi has become a cinematic force mining this kind of off-beat NZ humour since Boy, but Savill and Scotnev take things firmly in a fresh direction. Millie charms with the way she fakes her social media to persuade her friends that’s she’s Stateside, using carefully placed bags of salt to convince them she’s doing snow angels in the park. But there’s a reckoning to come, and Millie Lies Low doesn’t spare us the drama as Millie agonisingly unravels before an unexpectedly rousing ending.
Millie Lies Low is something of a coup for all involved; a game cast including Waititi regular Rachel House who are in tune with the gags, but also Savill’s script deftly shifting from comedy to drama without missing a beat. And the engine here is Scotney, an energising presence even when her character is in her cups; she’s brilliant in this, in a breakout peformance to compare with Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha. She’s destined for even greater things, but for now, getting the low-down on how to survive with this thoroughly post-modern Millie proves to be one of the year’s unexpected cinematic delights.
Signature Entertainment presents Millie Lies Low on Digital Platforms 22nd August 2022.
This films screens at EIFF today (Mon 15th) and also Thursday 18th 2022.