MRR Review: "The English Teacher"

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Julianne Moore plays a beloved English teacher whose repressed personal life exists in stark contrast to the passion she brings to the classroom. Her routine is upended when a former star pupil returns to her small town after failing miserably as a playwright. Greg Kinnear, Lily Collins & Michael Angarano co-star.
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MRR Review: "The English Teacher"

-- Rating: R (some sexual content and language)
Length: 93 minutes
Release Date: May 17, 2013
Directed by: Craig Zisk
Genre: Comedy/Drama

While coming-of-age tales usually focus on the teenage years or early twenties, "The English Teacher" chooses to tell the story of the life of a forty-year-old unmarried school teacher. The character growth in the film is clearly played for laughs, but this comedy-drama still offers heartfelt insights into the nature of growing up, taking chances, and living the life of an artist.

Linda Sinclair is a small-town high-school English teacher with two cats and a love for classic literature. Her life is dull and uncomplicated, but she delights in reading about passionate love affairs and daring exploits on the printed page. However, the simple life she adores is upended by a chance encounter with an old student, Jason Sherwood. Sinclair remembers him as one of the few talented students she has taught; when she finds out he has an unproduced NYU thesis play, she offers to produce it at the high school. Enlisting the help of the high-school drama teacher, Sinclair becomes determined to make this play a success. Although the tear-jerking play is clearly not appropriate for a high-school production, Sinclair soothes Sherwood's apprehensions and writes checks to cover the play's ballooning budget. Meanwhile, Sherwood struggles to decide if he should attend law school and give up on his dreams of becoming a playwright.

As the dowdy spinster Linda Sinclair, Julianne Moore convincingly plays against type. Hiding behind outdated aviator glasses and bangs, Moore is able to fully inhabit a character who is so repressed she doesn't even realize she's unhappy. Despite some fairly large character flaws and some unlikeable actions, Moore is still able to make Sinclair likeable as a heroine who deserves her triumph.

Michael Angarano plays failed playwright Jason Sherwood, who has returned home and is under pressure by his father to go to law school. Suffering from ulcers and ready to cave to his seemingly overbearing father, Angarano convincingly plays a man going through a particularly difficult quarter-life crisis.

"The English Teacher" showcases some good work from veteran actors Nathan Lane and Greg Kinnear. As Sherwood's unsupportive father, Kinnear delivers just the right amount of steel under his usual charm. It's clear where his character will go as the story unfolds, but Kinnear is still a pleasure to watch. Not many actors could credibly change from overbearing father to slightly misunderstood dad with as much grace as Kinnear. Lane has the more straightforward role as the high-school drama teacher who sees this play as his chance to create a masterpiece. While his performance is a little campy, Lane does keep it restrained to just the right pitch for this film.

Lily Collins also does well as a high-school actress who later becomes involved with Angarano's Sherwood. Clearly conceived as a stereotypical mean girl, Collins is still able to infuse a certain cleverness into the character.

The screenplay for "The English Teacher" was intended to be a comedy with a black core, but any darkness is medium-gray at best. The script refuses to make anyone truly uncomfortable, but some clever insights can be found within the film. Screenwriters Dan Chariton and Stacy Chariton understand the peculiar angst associated with bringing a play to life, and they clearly use their own experiences when developing the script. However, the scenes that really resonate take place within the realm of the high school. Deftly written scenes include a classroom scene in which Sinclair is trying to motivate her students to enjoy great literature and the debate with the school administrators who insist on changing the play's ending.

While new feature-film director Craig Zisk deftly manages the comedy-of-errors storyline of "The English Teacher," he makes some surprising stylistic decisions. The strangest is the cutesy voiceover narration that is used for the first ten minutes of the film and then reappears only for the film's climax. Scribbles on the screen are also used to denote the thoughts of some characters. Judging from the first ten minutes, audiences may think that they are viewing a very different movie than the one that "The English Teacher" becomes. However, after that initial misstep, audiences can enjoy Zisk's agile handling of a script that takes common people and puts them in absurd situations.

Audiences who are willing to seek out this indie film will be rewarded with a witty bit of entertainment delivered by a stellar cast. While astute movie watchers will know roughly what to expect in the ending halfway through the film, "The English Teacher" is still fun to watch. With a running time of only ninety-three minutes, this movie fits perfectly into any indie-film lover's weekend plans.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars