Netflix’s new thriller is generating loads of controversy — but viewers can’t stop watching

(L-R) Martin Freeman as Jonathan Albert Miller and Jenna Ortega as Cairo Sweet in "Miller's Girls" now streaming on Netflix
(Image credit: Lionsgate/Netflix)

The old saying goes “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” and “Miller’s Girl” is proving those words to be particularly wise. This erotic thriller has recently arrived on Netflix and is generating quite a lot of controversy with some social media commentators very unhappy.

However, despite this backlash, the movie has surged up the Netflix most-watched list and currently ranks in the No. 2 spot only behind the rom-com “Anyone But You." Its climb up the Netflix chart has been so swift that it appears to be on pace to claim the top spot for itself. 

Clearly, the controversy isn’t putting off viewers (and neither is its subpar 29% rating on Rotten Tomatoes), but if the online discussion has passed you by, and you’re curious to know exactly what this movie has become a lightning rod for controversy, I’m here to explain to you everything you need to know.

What is 'Miller’s Girl' about?  

“Miller’s Girl” explores the relationship between Cairo Sweet (Jenna Ortega, star of Netflix’s “Wednesday” series) and Jonathan Miller (Martin Freeman). The former is an 18-year-old, completing her senior year of high school, and the latter is Cairo’s creative writing professor grappling with crippling writer’s block and feeling trapped in his unhappy marriage.

Cairo is similarly dealing with her lack of inspiration when she is tasked with writing a college admission essay for Yale University on her “greatest achievement to date”. At the ill-judged encouragement of her best friend, she decides to seduce her teacher to give her an experience worth writing about. 

As Cairo and Miller become closer, the lines between teacher and student blur, and their relationship becomes increasingly inappropriate. Both are intoxicated by the thrill of their forbidden romance, but the possibility of their improper affair surfacing looms large. 

‘Miller’s Girl’ controversy — here’s why there’s backlash 

The controversy surrounding “Miller’s Girls” stems primarily from the age gap not just between its two (fictional) lead characters, Cairo and Miller, but from the resulting significant difference in age between its stars. There is a 31-year-old age gap between Ortega and Freeman. They were even born in different centuries! 

Jenna Ortega as Cairo Sweet in "Miller's Girl" now streaming on Netflix

(Image credit: Lionsgate/Netflix)

One scene in particular has been the focal point for much of the criticism. While I won’t spoil it here, you can probably guess that it’s an intimate moment. Questions have also been asked about how the movie handles the tricky subjects of consent and power dynamics.

However, in a recent interview with the Times of London, Freeman hit back at the criticism, labeling the movie “grown-up and nuanced” and pointing out that the movie isn’t necessarily condoning the relationship between its two main characters. To me, this is a very fair point. Just because a movie depicts something inappropriate doesn’t mean it’s encouraging it. 

During filming there was also an intimacy coordinator named Kristina Arjona on set who spoke to the Daily Mail earlier this year to stress that neither actor was put in a situation that made them uncomfortable and that the movie’s raunchy scenes were handled with care and the necessary sensitivity.  

Should you watch ‘Miller’s Girl’ on Netflix 

So, if the controversy isn’t of concern to you, and you’re comfortable with the movie’s delicate subject matter, you might be asking yourself whether "Miller's Girl" is worth adding to your Netflix watchlist. That’s quite a tricky question to answer. 

Its popularity on the world's biggest streaming service will undoubtedly convince many subscribers to give it a chance to see what all the fuss is about. However, as noted, its reviews following its theatrical release in January were pretty poor, and its audience score on Rotten Tomatoes isn’t much better at just 42%. 

Unless you’re a huge fan of Jenna Ortega or can’t resist watching such a controversial movie, you might be better streaming something else new on Netflix in May, but if you insist on giving "Miller's Girl" a watch, prepare for a mostly bland thriller that probably isn't warranting of all the attention it's been receiving in recent weeks.  

If you’re looking for some alternative options be sure to check out our list of the best new movies you can stream this week across the best streaming services, and if you want something revolving around an age-appropriate relationship Netflix just got a must-watch rom-com

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Rory Mellon
Entertainment Editor (UK)

Rory is an Entertainment Editor at Tom’s Guide based in the UK. He covers a wide range of topics but with a particular focus on gaming and streaming. When he’s not reviewing the latest games, searching for hidden gems on Netflix, or writing hot takes on new gaming hardware, TV shows and movies, he can be found attending music festivals and getting far too emotionally invested in his favorite football team. 

  • Fox Tread3
    May 2, 2024 - Oh... shock.. horror! Controversy on social media, or should I use my favorite term for it, unsocial media? Are we in the 1940s or 1950's here? As the late comedian Joan Rivers used to say.. "Oh grow up!":giggle:
    There must be some pretty bored people out there that have nothing better to do. Than to make a big deal about the difference in age of two people involved in a romance. Granted there is the question as to whether the relationship is appropriate because it is between a professor and his student. No matter how ill advised it is, relationships like that occur all of the time. As far as age is concerned. Over the past decades I have had relationships with women that were the same age as my adult daughters. Any problems in those those relationships were not based on age, but rather differences in personalities and lifestyles. As far as "Miller's Girl" is concerned. It is possible that the plot really isn't that interesting, thus the low ratings.
  • DrPlanarian
    So prudes, pecksniffs, and the quasi-religious "But what of the CHILDREN" crowd hate it? Then it's a must-watch.