The premise of Millie Lies Low — a New Zealand comedy directed by Michelle Savill and co-written by Savill and Eli Kent — is simple enough. Millie (Ana Scotney) is a young woman from New Zealand preparing to head to a dreamy architecture internship in New York City — an achievement notable enough to earn her the cover of a local magazine, and for her face to be plastered on ads in the tiny airport she’s flying out of. But moments before leaving, Millie has a panic attack and gets off the plane, with a stung ego and without enough money for a new ticket.
This could all be kept simple. Millie has a supportive friend group and a sweet boyfriend who is devastated about her leaving. Millie could tell the truth. Millie could not post anything, not answer any calls, until she’s worked herself out. But Millie Lies Low is insistent on overcomplicating the matter, insistent on avoiding the slightly sticky, messy truth, even if that means making things way stickier in the process. Sitting in the airport, Millie finds a stock image of a plane window to post online, claiming to have made it to New York, and her lie devolves from there.
Millie Lies Low sits somewhere between the chaotic self-destruction of Fleabag and the anxious missteps of Eighth Grade. It treads on ground we’ve been treading for a while now, but it does it so freshly, genuinely. It takes the popular tropes of messy women, social media, and an impending sense of existential anxiety, and lets it make our skin-crawl in new ways. Millie is a little weird, and very eager to feel normal, settled. Her friends quietly complain about the fact that she buys the same clothes as them, that perhaps she even stole some of the architectural design ideas from Carolyn (Jillian Nguyen). Her strange, self-destructive, risky actions are not about sex, attention, or validation, but about grasping at straws of being perceived as normal, as fitting in.
As Millie digs herself deeper and deeper into a hole of strange decisions, the film strikes a fantastic balance between presenting Millie’s ideas as unhinged and nonsensical as they really are, while remaining empathetic to her anxious, scattered plight. This empathetic spiraling is helped greatly by Ana Scotney’s performance, her sharp ability to portray Millie as both someone tied to a world of validation at any cost, all while being a little naive, a little out of the loop.
Millie’s deceitful and sloppily planned social media spiral and run about town is echoed visually by the world around her, as she often has to literally hide in alleys, or by dumpsters, or in the plot of land by her mother’s house. Much like in her social life, Millie seems to always be in the creepy little corners, trying to blend in, instead of in the center of it. And while Millie Lies Low doesn’t exactly play out in real time, it plays out in long, painful stretches, long enough to make your heart ache for Millie while also wishing you could plead with her to just stop. Somehow what she’s doing successfully stays in the space between totally ridiculous and somewhat understandable. We do not like to be perceived as messy and strange, and so often in our desperate, inauthentic attempts to dig out of that space we just get messier and stranger. Millie Lies Low sits in that cringey, sometimes overpowering truth with simplicity, tenderness, and skill.