It takes a committed performance to make a character like Miss Meadows fly, and Katie Holmes goes all in. She’s introduced in a scene that plays like a cheeky Blue Velvet homage: Wearing a 1950s-inspired ensemble complete with long gloves and Mary Jane tap shoes, Holmes’s Meadows walks down a quiet street as deer leap across lawns and bluebirds serenade her from treetops.
A nasty man drives alongside and interrupts her blissful stroll with rude comments that devolve into threats, so Miss Meadows calmly unclasps her demure handbag, pulls out a lovely little pistol, and kills him with one well-placed shot. Veteran screenwriter (Stepmom) and first-time director Karen Leigh Hopkins fashions Miss Meadows as a black comedy with serious undertones.
This fiercely protective elementary school teacher remains unfailingly polite and resolutely chipper while enforcing justice in a corrupt world, but Holmes reveals the angry, stunted child beneath the dainty Dirty Mary. (That doesn’t stop Hopkins from inserting explanatory flashbacks to a childhood tragedy.) Miss Meadows effectively sidesteps most adult interactions, until she meets a sheriff (James Badge Dale) whose idiosyncrasies dovetail with her own.
Holmes and Dale are ideal together, turning a polite courtship and charged relationship (including a sex scene that’s both giddy and profound) into a twisted, compelling expression of unconditional love. “Have no fear, Miss Meadows is here,” she tells the vulnerable charges who see her as their own superhero. The vigilantism of Miss Meadows has that same appeal, with a heroine as flawed as she is devoted.