Shame and the desire to project an image of something you’re not is at the heart of “Millie Lies Low,” a sad but fully relatable film from director and co-writer Michelle Savill. It’s a small-scale story that confronts psychologically dark themes with compassion and honesty, even if it’s uncomfortable for the viewer to watch as the likeable protagonist continues to dig a deeper hole for herself with lies and deceit.
Millie (Ana Scotney) is a recent New Zealand architecture graduate on her way to a prestigious new job internship in New York City. She’s said her goodbyes and steps on the plane, bound for her new adventure in life. Right before takeoff, Millie has a full-blown panic attack and is forcibly removed from the airplane. She’s unable to get on another flight without paying thousands of dollars, and she’s already sold her car to her former roommate. In reality, Millie is now homeless on the streets of Wellington. Embarrassed and ashamed to turn to her friends and family who think so highly of her, Millie decides to pretend she made the flight to the States so she won’t disappoint anyone.
This may sound like a terrific idea for a comedy caper, but it’s not. This is an effective and quite sad drama. The complex themes run deep here, and Scotney carries the film with a strong and compelling lead performance. Millie is tough and independent, but lets her emotions take over as her world falls apart. As she struggles to stay one step ahead of everyone else with an elaborate charade, a series of very bad decisions, missteps, and fibs have unfortunate consequences. You feel for the young woman, and it’s not easy watch her struggle emotionally.
The lengths at which Millie will go to protect her secret (and her perceived persona) is heartbreaking. She uses social media to mask the truth, faking smiles and using clever poses to “prove” she is in New York. The pictures tell the story that her life is coming up roses when in reality, she’s spending the night in a makeshift tent during a rainstorm. Millie desperately clings to this deceit in order to meet the expectations of others, further digging herself into the deepest hole imaginable. It’s not a pleasant thing to witness.
“Millie Lies Low” captures the feeling of agonizing embarrassment, and it’s not far-fetched to see how a scenario like this could actually happen. This is a complex film about humiliation, shame, and the very human desire to cover up our mistakes.