Review: ‘Miller’s Girl,’ starring Martin Freeman, Jenna Ortega, Dagmara Dominczyk, Bashir Salahuddin and Gideon Adlon

January 26, 2024

by Carla Hay

Jenna Ortega in “Miller’s Girl” (Photo by Zac Popik/Lionsgate)

“Miller’s Girl”

Directed by Jade Halley Bartlett

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional Opal County, Tennessee, the dramatic film “Miller’s Girl” features a racially diverse cast of characters (white, Latino and African American) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A wealthy and intellectual 18-year-old high school student sees how far she can go in trying to seduce her middle-aged and married literature teacher, who is attracted to her too.

Culture Audience: “Miller’s Girl” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars Jenna Ortega and Martin Freeman and shallow movies about inappropriate student/teacher relationships.

Martin Freeman in “Miller’s Girl” (Photo by Zac Popik/Lionsgate)

Too much of “Miller’s Girl” is phony: the pretentious dialogue, the fake accents, and the sexually curious teenagers who only flirt with teachers, not with other students. It’s a tacky drama trying to look artsy. The principal cast members seem to be doing their best to make things believable, but “Miller’s Girl” becomes undone by miscasting and other misguided directorial choices.

Written and directed by Jade Halley Bartlett, the overly verbose “Miller’s Girl” (which is Barlett’s feature-film debut) gives the impression that it was originally a novel adapted into a screenplay. Some viewers might be surprised to learn that “Miller’s Girl” is an original screenplay, even though the words in the movie sound like they were taken straight from a tawdry young-adult novel that’s trying to appear more intelligent than it really is. “Miller’s Girl” had its world premiere at the 2024 Palm Springs International Film Festival.

The central character and narrator of “Miller’s Girl” is a smug 18-year-old brat, ridiculously named Cairo Sweet (played by Jenna Ortega), who lives in an unnamed city in the fictional Opal County, Tennessee. In the movie’s opening scene, Cairo (who is an only child) tells viewers in a voiceover narration that she’s been left to live by herself in her family mansion because her parents are attorneys who are too busy with work and are “permanently abroad.” She lives on an estate called Victorian Village, which is very well-known in the area.

In an example of how fake this movie looks, Cairo is supposed to be fabulously wealthy, yet there are no servants or other employees who are seen taking care of the mansion and the rest of the property. In fact, Cairo is the only person seen in this big house. It’s supposed to make Cairo look like “a poor little rich girl” who’s all alone, but it just looks like sloppy and badly conceived filmmaking. There’s more of this lack of realism throughout this entire movie that’s trying to look like a realistic and “shocking” exposé of the dark side of student/teacher flirtations.

Cairo wonders aloud in her voiceover what it means to be an adult, now that she is 18 years old. To deal with her loneliness, she finds solace in reading books and in writing. Her voiceover comments often sound like what someone would write in a private journal. Cairo has plans to attend Yale University, but it’s too early for her to know if she’s been accepted into Yale.

Throughout the movie, Cairo makes several comments about how she hates living in Tennessee (she thinks she lives in the middle of nowhere) and can’t wait to graduate from high school so she can move somewhere else, starting with Yale in Connecticut. The movie never explains how this wealthy teenager—who is now legally an adult with no supervision and who can afford to travel on weekends or holiday breaks—doesn’t go to places outside of Tennessee if she dislikes being in Tennessee so much. During the entire movie, Cairo is never seen anywhere but in whatever area where she’s supposedly “stuck” living. It’s just more phony-looking filmmaking on display.

Cairo is in her last year of high school, which is an unnamed co-ed public school. The movie starts at the beginning of the school year. She is an avid book reader and is very talented at writing. It should come as no surprise that Cairo excels in a literature class, where a teacher in his 50s named Jonathan Miller (played by Martin Freeman) almost immediately singles out Cairo as an exceptional student. It won’t be long before he finds out that there are pros and cons to Cairo’s exceptionalism.

When Cairo and Mr. Miller meet each other for the first time, she’s quick to tell him that she read all 12 books that were on his summer reading list. He’s very impressed. Jonathan used to teach in the school’s theater program before the school cut the program. He got to keep his job at the school by becoming a literature teacher. It’s one of a few indications shown early in the movie that Jonathan is grateful that he wasn’t laid off, and he has real stakes at keeping his job at the school.

When Cairo tells him that her parents are attorneys, he asks her if she wants to be an attorney too. Cairo replies sarcastically, “As much as I want to be a high school student.” She makes it clear that she wants to be Mr. Miller’s “teacher’s pet” and does things to show she’s attracted to him, such as bat her eyelashes at him coquettishly, or stare at him in lectures as if he’s a genius. Cairo also uses a lot of intellectual vocabulary to let him think that she’s more “mature” than the average student her age.

Jonathan is married to a woman named Beatrice June Harker (played by Dagmara Dominczyk), who is moody and frequently distracted by her work. Beatrice and Jonathan have no children. In scenes where it looks like Jonathan and Beatrice might become sexually intimate, something interrupts the moment, and it’s usually something that has to do with her work. Beatrice has some type of executive manager job, where she works remotely from home and is often heard complaining or ranting about her subordinates, many of whom she thinks are incompetent.

Beatrice can be fun to be around when she’s in a good mood. But when she’s in a bad mood, watch out: She lashes out with cutting verbal insults. She drinks a lot of alcohol, which might or might not be why Beatrice has such a mercurial personality. At one point, Jonathan tells her that she’s an alcoholic. It’s unknown how long she’s had this drinking problem.

Cairo is shown interacting with only one student at the school: a flaky wannabe nymphomaniac named Winnie (played by Gideon Adlon), who describes herself as an “equal opportunity” seductress, because she’s open to having sexual relationships with people of any gender. Winnie seems to have an unrequited attraction to Cairo, who does a little bit of flirting back with Winnie, but it’s all just a tease, because Cairo has no sexual or romantic interest in Winnie.

Winnie is obsessed with talking about sex and seducing people. She’s the one who brings up the idea that Cairo should have the experience of falling in love, or at least seducing someone, before Cairo goes to college. It’s later revealed that Winnie and Cairo are both virgins. Winnie is given absolutely no backstory in this movie. She’s a mostly one-note character whose only purpose in the movie is to be the “talkative and horny” friend. Adlon’s Tennessee accent for Winnie is over-exaggerated in this movie.

Winnie and Cairo are never shown interacting with the other students in a meaningful way. They are not shown attending any other classes. They have such little interaction with the other students, they might as well be homeschooled. But then, there would be no “Miller’s Girl” movie, which is all about teasing audiences into thinking they’re going to see a movie about a “forbidden” relationship between a teenage female student and an older male teacher.

Winnie is aware of how Cairo seems to have a growing attraction to Mr. Miller, even though Winnie and Cairo both know that he is married. Winnie suggests to Cairo that Cairo should try to seduce him and see how far it can go. Meanwhile, Winnie claims to be in lust with a faculty member in his 40s named Boris Fillmore (played by Bashir Salahuddin), who is a physics teacher and a coach of an unnamed team at the school. Boris has a jolly jokester personality, and he happens to be Jonathan’s best friend at the school. Winnie tells Cairo that she wants a real man to take her virginity, and she thinks Coach Fillmore is the ideal candidate.

Meanwhile, Cairo ramps up her seduction scheme when she finds out that years ago, Jonathan wrote an obscure collection of erotic short stories called “Apostrophes and Ampersands.” The book was a flop with critics and audiences, and he hasn’t authored another book since then. He seems to have completely given up on becoming a professional writer. Of course, Cairo finds the book and reads it.

Jonathan and Cairo meet after school in his classroom, where they continue to flirt by exchanging annoying and pompous banter, while Jonathan tries to pretend that there isn’t sexual tension between them. Jonathan can’t resist Cairo’s charms, so he gives special treatment to Cairo by telling her in advance about his mid-term assignment for the class, so that she can get an early start on it. The assignment is for each student to write an essay in the style of the student’s favorite author.

Cairo then quotes passages from “Apostrophes and Ampersands” to Jonathan, in order to flatter him. This manipulation works. He literally becomes teary-eyed with emotions when he finds out that Cairo not only has read his book but that she also seems to likes it so much that she memorized parts of the book.

Seeing him show this vulnerable side, Cairo continues her manipulation by asking Jonathan why he hasn’t written another book since then. “You’re uninspired,” she tells him. He says, “Are you judging me?” Cairo replies, “I’m challenging you.”

This appeal to his ego quickly prompts Jonathan to tell Cairo that she should go to a monthly poetry-reading event that he likes to attend. He doesn’t directly ask her on a date, but it’s a big hint that if she goes to this event, he will be there too. And sure enough, the two of them see each other at this event, where afterwards they flirtatiously share a cigarette.

“Miller’s Girl” takes on a double meaning when Cairo tells Jonathan Miller that she has chosen controversial erotic author Henry Miller to be the writer she wants to emulate in her mid-term essay. Jonathan Miller objects to this choice, because work from Henry Miller is not allowed in this public school system for children. Cairo doesn’t care and insists that Henry Miller is her choice. You know where all of this is going, of course.

Beatrice is aware that Jonathan has taken a special interest in one of his students (she has not met Cairo), but Beatrice doesn’t see it as a problem at first, because Jonathan describes it as an interest in Cairo’s talent. And even when Beatrice finds out that Cairo seems to be fixating on Jonathan, Beatrice laughs it off as a harmless and temporary teenage crush. Jonathan assures Beatrice that he is not romantically attracted to Cairo, but Cairo doesn’t see it that way at all. You can easily guess what happens next in this “teen temptress” movie.

“Miller’s Girl” is very off-kilter in how it presents Cairo. At first, she appears to be an intellectual loner who has no interest in dating anyone. She dresses like an innocent schoolgirl. But then, after just a few conversations with Winnie (whom Cairo doesn’t seem to like very much), she goes to school looking like a party girl who’s ready to go to a nightclub. Winnie offered to give her a makeover, but it’s never shown in the movie if Winnie actually gave her the makeover or if Cairo made these fashion choices on her own.

Cairo’s personality switch is much more jarring than her wardrobe switch. At first, she seems to be genuinely curious about falling in love and eager to have that experience. At one point, she seems to be so infatuated with Jonathan that she thinks he’s some kind of soul mate because she believes that they are both very similar to each other. But then, Cairo becomes a vindictive control freak determined to get her way, no matter who gets hurt. Because very little is told or shown about what Cairo was like before she met Jonathan, it’s not clear if she was this unpleasant all along, or if something about this relationship with this older, married teacher brought out the worst in her.

There’s more than a little misogyny in the way this story is told, because every female with a major speaking role in this movie is either portrayed as a “shrew,” a “seductress” or both. Jonathan is not quite an innocent victim, although the movie obviously wants viewers to have the most sympathy for him. As already revealed in the “Miller’s Girl” trailer, Cairo is supposed to be the villain of the story, even though Jonathan, as the teacher/authority figure in this situation, has more of the responsibility to stop whatever inappropriate flirting was going on between him and Cairo.

The worst thing about “Miller’s Girl” is not the cringeworthy dialogue, which gets worse as the movie starts to unravel in its pathetic attempts to be an erotic thriller. The worst thing about “Miller’s Girl” is not the questionable Tennessee accent that a miscast Ortega struggles to maintain during this lurid mess of a movie. The worst thing about “Miller’s Girl” is that by the end of the film, it becomes very obvious that “Miller’s Girl” is just as empty and soulless as the most of the characters in the movie.

Lionsgate released “Miller’s Girl” in U.S. cinemas on January 26, 2024.

Review: ‘Top Gun: Maverick,’ starring Tom Cruise

May 12, 2022

by Carla Hay

Miles Teller and Tom Cruise in “Top Gun: Maverick” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

“Top Gun: Maverick”

Directed by Joseph Kosinski

Culture Representation: Taking place in California, the action film “Top Gun: Maverick” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: U.S. Navy Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell returns to the TOPGUN aviator program, where he reluctantly becomes an instructor for new recruits, including a man who blames Maverick for damaging his career and causing his father’s death. 

Culture Audience: “Top Gun: Maverick” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Tom Cruise, 1986’s “Top Gun” and any formulaic action sequel that is a virtual copy of its predecessor.

Jennifer Connelly and Tom Cruise in “Top Gun: Maverick” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

“Top Gun: Maverick” is an uninspired, outdated retread of 1986’s “Top Gun,” but with more implausible scenarios and with no women in military leadership positions. Even the original songs in this sequel are forgettable. While “Top Gun: Maverick” has more racial diversity than the first “Top Gun” movie, the people of color in the movie are still relegated to “sidekick” and forgettable roles. “Top Gun: Maverick” makes the same mistake that a lot of sequels do: Copying the same plot as the first movie without improving it.

What makes this mistake less acceptable is that “Top Gun: Maverick” has arrived 36 years after the release of the first “Top Gun” movie. That’s plenty of time to think up ways to take the movie in innovative and clever directions. (By contrast, Cruise’s “Mission: Impossible” movie franchise keeps things fresh with stories and action scenes that are unique to each movie.) Directed by Joseph Kosinski, “Top Gun: Maverick” was originally supposed to be released in 2019, but it was delayed multiple times because of post-production issues, the COVID-19 pandemic and other reasons. The movie was filmed before the pandemic.

A sequel should have familiar elements of its predecessor. It doesn’t mean that a sequel should rehash a predecessor’s plot. Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer and Christopher McQuarrie wrote the formulaic and disappointing screenplay for “Top Gun: Maverick,” which essentially regurgitates the same story in “Top Gun.”

Both movies are about the U.S. Navy’s Fighter Weapons School at Naval Air Station Miramar in San Diego. This elite school is nicknamed TOPGUN. Both movies are about a hotshot young TOPGUN school airplane pilot clashing with an arrogant rival classmate while being haunted by the death of a loved one and facing a big challenge in the training program.

In “Top Gun,” Cruise’s Pete “Maverick” Mitchell character (played by Tom Cruise) was the hotshot student. In “Top Gun: Maverick,” he’s the main TOPGUN instructor, who has to teach his group of TOPGUN graduates how to fight in a secretive government mission targeting an unsanctioned uranium nuclear plant. In a case of history repeating itself, “Top Gun: Maverick” also has a funeral scene when someone close to Maverick dies.

Eddie Murphy’s horrible 2021 comedy Coming 2 America (the long-awaited sequel to 1988’s “Coming to America”) made the same mistake of lazily copying the same basic plot of its predecessor and trying to make the story look new by introducing a younger generation of new characters. “Coming 2 America” had even worse results, because of the movie’s awful racism and sexism, including making a joke out of an African American woman getting pregnant after she drugged and raped a man. “Top Gun: Maverick” isn’t as offensively bad as “Coming 2 America,” but the movie still has a “stuck in the 1980s” mindset that looks out of place in a movie that’s supposed to take place in the 21st century.

The first “Top Gun” movie (directed by Tony Scott, who died in 2012, at the age of 68) had only two or three people of color in the entire movie. They were African American men who were mostly put in the background. Only one of the African American men was allowed to speak in the movie, and he was literally given just two minor sentences to say. “Top Gun” was written by Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr.

To its credit, “Top Gun: Maverick” has a lot more racial diversity in its cast. There are some African American and Latino characters who say more than a few sentences, but their personalities are very hollow and generic. Needless to say, the people of color in “Top Gun” Maverick” do not get backstories or a significant storyline in the movie.

“Top Gun: Maverick” also falters in its depiction of women, who are once again made into token characters. But in “Top Gun: Maverick,” the depiction of the women goes in a backwards direction, because there are no women shown in positions of power in the U.S. miliary or in the TOPGUN training program. Women have come a long way in the U.S. military since 1986, but you’d never know it from watching “Top Gun: Maverick,” which puts only men in military leadership positions.

At least in “Top Gun,” one of the main characters was an intelligent woman in a position of power, even though she was still a token: Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood (played by Kelly McGillis), a civilian and an astrophysicist, who was an instructor in the TOPGUN program. Charlie and Maverick became romantically involved with each other. The movie realistically shows that Charlie was conflicted about this relationship because of how it might compromise her professional judgment and reputation. McGillis shared top billing with Cruise in “Top Gun.” In “Top Gun: Maverick,” Cruise is one of the movie’s producers, and he’s the only star who gets top billing.

The only other woman in “Top Gun” who had a significant speaking role (but got a lot less screen time than Charlie) was bubbly and outgoing Carole Bradshaw (played by Meg Ryan), the wife of Lieutenant Nick “Goose” Bradshaw (played by Anthony Edwards), who was Maverick’s best friend and Radar Intercept Officer, also known as a “wingman.” Carole and Goose have a son, who’s about 5 or 6 years old in the movie. In “Top Gun,” Goose died in a tragic accident during a training session with Maverick as the pilot. Maverick was cleared of any wrongdoing, but he’s been guilt-ridden about Goose’s death ever since.

Charlie and Carole are not in “Top Gun: Maverick” because these female characters weren’t even considered for this sequel, according to interviews that director Kosinski has given about the movie. Charlie is not mentioned in “Top Gun: Maverick.” Carole is briefly mentioned because she’s dead, having passed away for an untold number of years before this story takes place. In other words, the “Top Gun: Maverick” filmmakers killed off the Carole Bradshaw character.

In “Top Gun: Maverick,” the son of Goose and Carole is all grown up now. And just like his father, he’s a U.S. Navy lieutenant who’s now a trainee in the TOPGUN program. His name is Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (played by Miles Teller), and he’s got a chip on his shoulder and a lot to prove because he’s living in the shadow of his dead father, who was considered a military hero. If those “daddy issues” sound familiar, it’s exactly what Maverick was going through when he went through the TOPGUN training program. Maverick’s high-ranking U.S. Navy father was on a top-secret government mission when he went missing and is presumed dead.

Rooster knows that Maverick was not responsible for Goose’s death, but Rooster still has hard feelings toward Maverick over his father’s untimely passing. Rooster also resents Maverick because Maverick blocked Rooster from getting into the U.S. Naval Academy. Unbeknownst to Rooster, Maverick did so at the request of Rooster’s mother Carole, who didn’t want Rooster to be in the military. It was only after Carole died that Rooster was able to enroll in the U.S. Naval Academy.

In the beginning of “Top Gun: Maverick,” Maverick still has the ranking of captain. It’s explained that he has not been promoted for all these years because he has a tendency to be rebellious and reckless. However, the U.S. Navy has kept him on as a test pilot because of his extraordinary pilot skills. It’s mentioned in the movie that’s he’s the only pilot in the U.S. Navy to shoot down 30 enemy planes.

Maverick is considered a dinosaur relic from a bygone era by several high-ranking people in the U.S. Navy. Some of those people think he needs to be honorably discharged, but Maverick loves his military job too much to leave, and he is being protected by Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (played by Val Kilmer), who has a small supporting role in “Top Gun: Maverick.” As shown in the first “Top Gun” movie, Iceman (also played by Kilmer) was Maverick’s biggest rival in the TOPGUN program. However, they eventually became friends with deep respect for each other.

In California’s Mohave Desert, Maverick is part of a program that is being shut down because it hasn’t met Mach 10 standards. Rear Admiral Chester “Hammer” Cain (played by Ed Harris) is coming to the naval base for the official cancellation of the program. To embarrass him, Maverick takes a plane in the air, and not only hits the Mach 10 target, but he also exceeds it. But by doing so, he ends up flaming out, but how Maverick lands the plane is never shown. All that’s shown is that he comes back looking dirty and disheveled, without any injuries.

This unauthorized use of a military plane for a showoff stunt would be grounds for serious disciplinary action in the real world. But in this make-believe world where Maverick is supposed to be a roguish hero, time and time again, he gets let off the hook for his flagrant insubordination. Hammer tells Maverick with begrudging respect, “You’ve got some balls, stick jockey. I’ll give you that.” Get used to hokey dialogue like this in “Top Gun: Maverick,” because the movie is full of it.

Now that Maverick’s program has been shuttered, he’s been assigned to do something he doesn’t want to do: Go back to the TOPGUN program in San Diego to be an instructor. Maverick is one of those people who believes in that old saying, “Those who can’t do, teach.” In other words, he thinks this teaching job is for someone who’s a has-been or a never-was, who doesn’t have what it takes to currently be a pilot.

Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson (played by Jon Hamm) is one of the Navy officials who is gunning for Maverick to leave the Navy. He even says as much, when he tells Maverick: “The future is coming, and you’re not in it.” Cyclone has a sidekick named Admiral Solomon “Warlock” Bates (played by Charles Parnell), who doesn’t do much but be in the same room as Cyclone and go along with almost everything that Cyclone says. However, Warlock has a few moments where he shows that he’s really rooting for Maverick. The same goes for Warrant Officer-1 Bernie “Hondo” Coleman (played by Bashir Salahuddin), who makes some bland wisecracks during the movie.

Maverick has to choose six of his 12 students to go on the secret mission to disable the uranium plant, which is set to activate in about three weeks. Predictably, Rooster and Maverick clash with each other. At one point, Rooster yells at Maverick: “My dad believed in you. I’m not going to make the same mistake!”

More than once in the movie, Maverick tells his trainees to ignore what they were taught in the Navy’s rulebook, and he says some variation of “Don’t think, just do” He expects them to not overthink things and to trust their instincts. Of course, in Maverick’s lectures about not following what authority figures say, he thinks he’s the exception, because he wants to be the only authority figure who must be obeyed in this program.

In addition to Rooster, the other students in the program include Rooster’s smirking, cocky rival Lieutenant Jake “Hangman” Seresin (played by Glen Powell), whose personality is a virtual replica of how Iceman was in the first “Top Gun” movie. Hangman tries to find emotional weakness in Rooster to have a competitive advantage. When Hangman discovers Rooster’s “daddy issues” and why Rooster has tensions with Maverick, it leads to the inevitable fist fight between Hangman and Rooster.

The token woman in this group of chosen trainees is Lieutenant Natasha “Phoenix”
Trace (played by Monica Barbaro), who doesn’t have much of a personality, except trying to fit in with the guys. Lieutenant Robert “Bob” Floyd (played by Lewis Pullman) has the role of the nerd who’s somewhat of social outcast in this competitive group. Bob gets teased because he hasn’t thought up a flashy nickname, also known as a call sign, like all the other TOPGUN aviators.

The other trainees do not have distinguishable personalities and are given very trite dialogue. They include Lieutenant Reuben “Payback” Fitch (played by Jay Ellis); Lieutenant Mickey “Fanboy” Garcia (played by Danny Ramirez); and Lt. Javy “Coyote” Machado (played by Greg Tarzan Davis). Most viewers of “Top Gun: Maverick” will have a hard time remembering these three characters’ names and what they said by the time the movie is over.

Unlike the first “Top Gun” movie, which showed the male trainees carousing at bars and trying to pick up women, the trainees in “Top Gun” are a much tamer crew. When they go to a bar, they gather around a piano and sing Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire,” with Rooster playing the piano. Maverick sees this camaraderie, and it triggers him to have a flashback memory to when he, Goose and other TOPGUN trainees did the same thing, with Goose’s young son sitting nearby for the sing-along. (This scene from “Top Gun” is shown as a flashback.)

Speaking of bars where these TOPGUN people hang out, the main bar they go to is The Hard Deck aviators’ club. It just happens to be owned and bartended by Penny Benjamin (played by Jennifer Connelly), who is the daughter of a U.S. Navy admiral. Penny was briefly mentioned, but never seen, in the first “Top Gun” movie as one of the many conquests whom ladies’ man Maverick got sexually involved with and then dumped.

Penny is now a divorced mother to a daughter named Amelia Benjamin (played by Lyliana Wray), who’s about 13 or 14 years old. Penny’s ex-husband, who is never seen in “Top Gun: Maverick,” has remarried and is living in Hawaii. It’s implied that never-married bachelor Maverick and Penny have had an on-again/off-again relationship, where Maverick left her heartbroken because he ended things with her every time. When Penny sees Maverick again all these years later, she predictably gives him a hard time for breaking up with her.

But just as predictably, she eventually lets him back into her life, and they rekindle their romance. Maverick and Penny look good together as a couple, but they don’t generate as much romantic heat as Maverick had with Charlie. Although Penny is a business owner, her role is essentially to be a generic love interest who follows Maverick’s lead when he courts her and succeeds in winning a place back into her heart.

Penny initially wants to keep this rekindled romance a secret from her daughter Amelia, who inevitably finds out anyway. Even after it’s no longer a secret, Maverick doesn’t spend any quality time with Amelia, which he would care about doing if he’s serious about a relationship with Penny. That’s why Maverick’s level of commitment to Penny is questionable, no matter how many “romantic” scenes are shown of Penny riding with Maverick on the back of his motorcycle. This scenario of Maverick giving his love interest a motorcycle ride is also recycled from the first “Top Gun” movie.

“Top Gun: Maverick” delivers when it comes to the airplane action scenes (with the F/A-18 being the airplane of choice), but too much of the movie is tediously predictable recycling of plot points and scenes from the first “Top Gun” movie. The scene of Maverick on a motorcycle while playfully racing a soaring fighter plane is recreated. It’s in the movie for pure nostalgia reasons for people who saw the first “Top Gun” movie.

Another recycled scene takes place at a beach where the TOPGUN aviators are playing a sports game together in their free time. In “Top Gun,” it was volleyball. In “Top Gun: Maverick,” it’s touch football. This beach frolicking scene only seems to be in the movie so that Cruise and the other men can be shirtless and show off their toned physiques. Even the closing credits scene is styled exactly like the first “Top Gun” movie.

One of the highlights of “Top Gun: Maverick” is a poignant scene between Maverick and Iceman, who is battling throat cancer, just Kilmer is in real life. However, “Top Gun: Maverick” ends up being marred by too many unrealistic scenarios. There’s even more disregard of real-life U.S. military protocol than what was in the first “Top Gun” movie. Maverick does things that would get him dishonorably discharged in the real world—but of course he doesn’t get discharged, because this is a Tom Cruise movie. And the ending of “Top Gun: Maverick” is even more cornball than the ending of the first “Top Gun” movie.

The “Top Gun” soundtrack was the biggest-selling soundtrack of 1986. And it’s easy to know why. People who’ve seen the first “Top Gun” movie know how the music was used to great effect. Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” song fueled a high-energy scene early in the movie. Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” memorably played during a romantic scene between Charlie and Maverick on the night that they became lovers. Those two signature “Top Gun” songs were instant classics that stayed in viewers’ minds long after seeing the movie. Although “Top Gun” got some criticism for being filmed almost like a music video, there’s no denying that the movie’s music was one of its biggest assets.

Unfortunately, “Top Gun: Maverick” has an utterly mediocre soundtrack, with songs that have been used in many other movies, such as Foghat’s “Slow Ride” and T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong (Get It On).” There’s nothing wrong with these tunes, but they’re overplayed in too many other places. And because “Top Gun: Maverick” is a movie of rehashes, “Danger Zone” also makes a reappearance. The original soundtrack songs on “Top Gun: Maverick,” such as Lady Gaga’s “Hold My Hand,” won’t be winning any Oscars, like Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away.”

Viewers who will enjoy “Top Gun” the most are those who want to see a superficial recreation of the first “Top Gun” movie. But for other people who know that “Top Gun: Maverick” could have been a lot better, the movie falls short in coming up with any major story arc that would be truly original and daring for this sequel. The performances in “Top Gun Maverick” aren’t terrible, but they aren’t that special either. In the end, “Top Gun: Maverick,” just like its main character, is stuck in a rut of reliving past glories, and ends up having more swagger and posturing than any real substance.

Paramount Pictures will release “Top Gun: Maverick” in U.S. cinemas on May 27, 2022.

Review: ‘Cyrano’ (2021), starring Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett and Kelvin Harrison Jr.

February 23, 2022

by Carla Hay

Haley Bennett and Peter Dinklage in “Cyrano” (Photo by Peter Mountain/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

“Cyrano” (2021)

Directed by Joe Wright

Culture Representation: Taking place in France sometime in the 1600s, the musical “Cyrano” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A highly intelligent and articulate soldier named Cyrano de Bergerac is secretly in love with a maiden named Roxanne, who has a mutual infatuation with Christian, a soldier who befriends Cyrano and asks Cyrano to write love letters to Roxanne for him. 

Culture Audience: “Cyrano” will appeal primarily to people who are inclined to like movie musicals and are fans of star Peter Dinklage.

Haley Bennett and Kelvin Harrison Jr. in “Cyrano” (Photo by Peter Mountain/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

Elegantly designed but with song lyrics and dialogue that can be corny, the musical “Cyrano” features above-average performances that elevate the movie’s tendency to sink into old-fashioned stodginess. Based on Edmond Rostand’s 1897 “Cyrano de Bergerac” play, the movie can be enjoyed by people of many different generations, but some viewers might think the tone is too earnestly sappy. Love it, like it or hate it, “Cyrano” director Joe Wright, screenwriter Erica Schmidt and this movie’s talented cast give this version of “Cyrano de Bergerac” their own unique and heartfelt stamp.

The story is essentially about an unorthodox love triangle between an intelligent but insecure man named Cyrano de Bergerac, who’s hopelessly in love with a woman who is his friend, but she loves someone who is considered more physically attractive by society’s standards. The more physically attractive man has intelligence shortcomings, so he asks the lovelorn man to write letters to the woman to impress her. How long the two men can keep this secret depends on how the story is adapted. Different versions of “Cyrano de Bergerac” also vary the time periods and occupations of the three people in the love triangle.

In the “Cyrano” musical, which takes place in France in the 1600s (and was actually filmed in Italy), Cyrano de Bergerac (played by Peter Dinklage) is an unlucky-in-love cadet who has been secretly in love with maiden Roxanne (played by Haley Bennett) for her entire adult life. Roxanne only sees Cyrano (who works for the King’s Guard) as a friend. She appreciates his wit and his creativity. He writes poems, and they both share a love of literature.

The movie’s timeline of Roxanne and Cyrano’s relationship is vague. Conversations in the movie suggest that Roxanne and Cyrano have known each other since their childhoods. Even though the “Cyrano” filmmakers try to pass off Cyrano and Roxanne as being fairly close in their ages, it’s impossible not to notice the 19-year age difference between Dinklage and Bennett.

In the beginning of the movie, Roxanne and her lady-in-waiting Marie (played by Monica Dolan) are getting Roxanne ready for a date with a wealthy duke, who is taking her to see a theater play. Roxanne is financially broke and behind on her rent. Marie advises Roxanne to marry the duke for his money. “Children need love. Adults need money,” Marie quips.

The problem is that Roxanne’s suitor Duke DeGuiche (played by Ben Mendelsohn) is an overbearing, pompous lout whom Roxanne can barely tolerate. Roxanne is a romantic who would prefer to marry for love. While Roxanne and DeGuiche drive by carriage to the theater, a wayward man on the streets named Christian Neuvillette (played by Kelvin Harrison Jr.) sees Roxanne. And it’s infatuation at first sight for Christian, but he’s told by someone on the street that Roxanne is “way above your station.”

This movie’s Cyrano is not the bashful sad sack that he’s depicted as in other “Cyrano de Bergerac” adaptations. Cyrano is still self-conscious about his physical appearance, which is an intrinsic part of his personality. However, this version of Cyrano has a feisty and combative side that he shows during this theater play. Cyrano is at this theater venue because he wants to be the star of the show.

On stage, Cyrano confronts an actor named Montfleury (played by Mark Benton) in an imperious voice: “What are you doing here? I sent you a letter last week urging you to retire.” Montfleury snaps back, “I received your letter, and I burned it!” Cyrano’s response is to chase Monfleury off of the stage. The audience is amused when Cyrano announces about Montfleury’s departure: “I have saved you from seeing a fiasco!”

But things soon get dangerous when a man in the audience named Valvert (played by Joshua James) calls Cyrano a “freak.” Valvert and Cyrano end up fighting with swords on stage. Their duel ends with Cyrano’s victory. Cyrano then makes this self-deprecating comment to the audience: “What you heard is not a rumor. I’m living proof that God has a sick sense of humor.”

However, Valvert is a very sore loser. He lunges at Cyrano, a tussle ensues, and Cyrano stabs Valvert, who dies. Needless to say, all the chaos and violence have abruptly ended this show, as people in the audience leave, with many of them feeling horrified or in shock.

One of the people who’s disgusted by what took place is De Guiche, who tells Roxanne on the way back home that Cyrano went too far. Roxanne tells De Guiche that Cyrano was only acting in self-defense. She says that Cyrano is her oldest friend, and she knows him as someone who would never intentionally murder someone. De Guiche is not impressed, and he advises Roxanne to end her friendship with Cyrano.

Cyrano has another close confidant. His name is Captain Le Bret (played by Bashir Salahuddin), who is also a member of the King’s Guard. Cyrano has confided in Le Bret about his love for Roxanne and has sworn Le Bret to secrecy about it. For all of Cyrano’s bravado in public, he’s still very insecure about expressing many of his private feelings, especially when it comes to love.

When Christian becomes a newly recruited soldier for the King’s Guard, Roxanne sees him for the first time. And she’s convinced that it’s love at first sight. Christian wants to act on his attraction to Roxanne, but he doesn’t think he’s smart enough for her. Christian and Cyrano become friends, and Christian notices how Cyrano is an excellent writer. And so, Christian asks his new friend Cyrano to pretend to be Christian in writing love letters to Roxanne. After some reluctance, Cyrano obliges.

People who know the original “Cyrano de Bergerac” story will know how the rest of the movie will go, because this musical adheres fairly close to the source material. The love letters work their charm, but Roxanne is confused over why Christian is so inarticulate in person, compared to his letters. Cyrano is torn about whether or not to tell Roxanne the truth, because Cyrano’s role in this deception could permanently ruin his relationship with Roxanne. Meanwhile, the love triangle saga plays out on battlefields, in bedrooms and in the neutral meeting place of Cyrano’s baker/poet friend Ragueneau (played by Peter Wight). Ultimately, difficult choices must be made.

Dinklage, who is immensely talented and has a wonderfully expressive face, makes some of the scenes almost heartbreaking to watch. Dinklage’s Cyrano isn’t a flimsy caricature but rather complex in how Cyrano deals with his inner turmoil but often puts up a brave front to the public. Bennett performs well as Roxanne, while Harrison is good but a little generic in his role as Christian. Harrison is the best singer of the three cast members portraying this love triangle.

The rest of the cast members in supporting roles are serviceable but stereotypical. Salahuddin plays a predictable loyal sidekick. Mendelsohn portrays yet another villain in a long list of movie villains that he’s depicted in his career. Still, there’s that touch of swagger that Mendelsohn brings to the role of De Guiche that makes this character somewhat amusing to watch.

“Cyrano” has 13 original songs, with music written by twin brothers Bryce Dessner and Aaron Dessner and lyrics by Matt Berninger and Carin Besser. The Dessner brothers also wrote the movie’s musical score. Berninger, Bryce Dessner and Aaron Dessner are all members of the rock band The National. The music of “Cyrano” carries the story along just fine, but it’s not an exceptional soundtrack. Where the movie falters the most is in how the lyrics for these original songs are sometimes cornball and trite, like something written for a school production.

In De Guiche’s big showcase song “What I Deserve,” he pouts as he bellows these lyrics: “Come, Roxanne, am I asking for too much? Why should I have to beg for what everybody wants? Take me right now. I don’t care if I have your love. I don’t have fear. Nothing’s even, nothing’s fair. Roxanne, I didn’t ask you to be here. I’ll pick the lock, I’ll draw the knife. I’ll climb the walls, I’ll crash the gate, because I deserve a happy life.” This is supposed to be the defining song for the movie’s chief villain? No thank you.

And although the movie’s dialogue is thankfully not too flowery, sometimes it veers too much in the opposite direction of being overly simplistic and dull. This is what Roxanne has to say when she begins to see that Christian isn’t as smart as she was expecting: “He might be an incredibly beautiful man with the mind of a rabbit. He can’t be. I need him not to be.” Maybe those lines might pass muster in a TV soap opera, but they just sound a little out of place in a movie with such lavish costumes and elaborate production design.

“Cyrano” keeps a fairly good pace throughout the story, but there are still a few moments that drag monotonously. Some viewers might be disappointed that there aren’t more scenes of Roxanne and Cyrano together. Because this version of Cyrano has a personality that’s less predictable and more volatile than other movie interpretations of the character, Dinklage really carries the film when it comes to keeping viewer interest. For all of the movie’s flaws, Dinklage’s riveting performance is a memorable and spirited interpretation of a character that is often portrayed as self-pitying and borderline pathetic in other versions of “Cyrano de Bergerac.”

Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures released “Cyrano” for a limited engagement in Los Angeles, beginning on December 17, 2021. The movie is set for a wide release in U.S. cinemas on February 25, 2022.

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