Saturday, May 25, 2013

Lessons Learned in Comedy, 'The English Teacher'

In the comedy, The English Teacher, Julianne Moore plays the title role, a 40-something, unmarried woman named Linda Sinclair who lives as a spinster and spends most of her time lost inside the pages of books.

One night while at an ATM, she runs into Jason (Michael Angarano) a former student she mistakes for a mugger.   That proves to be a fateful meeting as Sinclair’s life begins to take on new dimensions.

Jason has written a play that he’d like his former high school english teacher to read. He respects her opinion. He has just come out of NYU with a finished play and no prospects for producing it.

Of course she obliges, reads the play and thinks it’s one of the best tomes she’s ever read.

When she and Jason begin to collaborate they lose their heads one day and end up having sex. Good thing for her she’s no longer his teacher and he is of age.

In the meantime, The English Teacher convinces the principal to use Jason’s play as the school’s latest production even though it is extremely dark and has a suicide scene. The principal agrees as long as the suicide scene is changed. The English Teacher agrees, but both she and Carl, the drama teacher (Nathan Lane) decide to keep the scene in without telling the principal, played aptly by Jessica Hecht. Sinclair also fails to tell Jason about the proposed change.

Once production starts, things start to unravel. Sinclair finds herself entangled in Jason’s relationship with his father (Greg Kinnear), who, she thinks, is trying to run his life and guide him away from writing.  Things further unravel when she finds herself consumed with jealousy when Jason begins showing interest in an actress in the cast.  Things begin to go awry when the girl finds out about The English Teacher’s indiscretion with Jason.

This is television veteran Craig Zisk’s first feature film. It’s funny, has charm and a pleasing cast, but still lacks flavor and depth.  The story is weak.

Zisk said when he first read The English Teacher he was “drawn to the rich themes of self-discovery and transformation. The film is a journey, from hope to failure to redemptions, played out in a funny, endearing and mindful way.  This is a film where we see people’s broken parts exposed and then healed through standing up for what they believe. Transformation is always possible. You can always begin again.”

The performances are on target as they should be with a cast that includes Moore and Lane. Moore is convincing, even occasionally using some physical comedy to bring her character to life. Lane is Lane. He’s always credible, on target, funny and brilliant. But, the story is missing something – just like Moore’s character. While Sinclair was busy reading about life, she forgot to have one of her own.

The English Teacher should be smarter.

The English Teacher, directed by Craig Zisk and written by Dan Charlton and Stacy Charlton, stars Julianne Moore, Michael Angarano, Nathan Lane, Greg Kinnear and Lily Collins.

The English Teacher, currently open in limited release, is already available on VOD.

On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (Oh, no), N (Needs work), L (likeable), O (OK), E (excellent), The English Teacher gets an L (likeable).

Running time: 93 min.

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