Much like Nightcrawler’s Louis Bloom, Miss Meadows’s eponymous protagonist, played by Katie Holmes, unsettles you with kindness. Meadows is ludicrously prim and proper, a sociopathic exemplar of good manners. The latter in particular are a matter of principle for her. “What would the world be without them?” she asks her new boyfriend, Mike (James Badge Dale) the town sheriff, and the answer probably amounts to what her mother (Jean Smart) tells her over the phone in another conversation: a “rotting cesspool of mediocrity and decay.”
That contrast between the refined Meadows and the sullied world around her is relayed immediately in the film’s opening scene. As she walks through her idyllic suburban neighborhood, reading a book of poetry and looking like Belle in Beauty and the Beast, she’s approached by a catcalling, gun-toting pervert—at which point she pulls a gun from her purse and shoots him in the head. Meadows, it turns out, is a vigilante, if something of a passive one: She doesn’t seek out the scum of the earth, but when presented with it, she casually rids the world of its presence. That makes her an awkward romantic partner for Mike, who’s actively investigating a slew of recent shootings and slowly realizes that Meadows is the perpetrator. That he would potentially undermine an investigation into several murders for a woman he only just met is far-fetched, but only if you take the film as a work of serious realism.
The audience doesn’t get much of a view of Meadows’s town throughout the film, but what we see is slightly dystopian. There’s talk of hundreds of criminals who’ve been released from prison recently because of overcrowding, many of who are now settling in Meadows’s neighborhood. On top of that lies an almost cartoonish veneer. There’s a cheerful bright blue bird that Meadows talks to regularly, and a herd of deer that appear on a neighbor’s lawn at one point. It’s all seemingly out of a fairy tale, which makes sense since the same could be said of Meadows’s good-and-evil moral worldview.
But these surreal aspects only get hinted at in brief shots, and they could almost pass by unperceived. Perhaps Hopkins’s intent was to let the mood suggest itself only subtly, but ultimately she underplays her hand. Throughout Miss Meadows, one occasionally surmises that something about its world is slightly askew, though it’s never quite clear exactly why that is. By the end, after we’ve absorbed said world through Meadows’s eyes, a more overarching view emerges, one in which Meadows is seen as a participant in corruption, rather than an opponent of it. Yet here again, it isn’t clear if that’s an unintended irony or a purposeful twist. It’s a promising idea that a surer hand might have given more concrete expression.