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The English Teacher

2013 | 93 min | R | 2.39:1

The English Teacher


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Theatrical release date

 17 May, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

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The English Teacher Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, May 15, 2013

I wish “The English Teacher” was as humorous and mischievous as it believes itself to be. A farce in serious need of speed and content, the picture doesn’t exactly achieves its minimal goals, falling short of its intended satiric aim toward high school theatrical productions, while lacking spitfire as a comedy of errors tinged with uncomfortable sexuality. Although the cast is invested in the shenanigans to a satisfying degree, there’s simply not enough to the feature that translates to dynamic filmmaking. “The English Teacher” unfolds with all the edge and depth of a television movie, and despite some tempting turns of unsavory behavior, it barely shows interest in itself.

Finicky, mannered, and hopelessly single, Linda (Julianne Moore) is a high school English teacher with lofty standards in the classroom and in the dating scene, meeting her share of duds as she hunts for a boyfriend. Returning to her small town is former student Jason (Michael Angarano), a gifted writer who failed to make anything of himself while in New York City, coming back home to live with his estranged father, Dr. Tom (Greg Kinnear). Looking to give a prized pupil his due, Linda reads his latest work. Blown away by the dark story, she joins forces with drama teacher Carl (Nathan Lane), urging school leaders to produce the play, despite some heavy themes and violent imagery. Encouraged by the attention, Jason joins the crew as a consultant, thrilling Linda to such a degree, she decides to have sex with the playwright on a whim, a blast of passion that carries heavy remorse. When Jason’s attentions turn to leading lady Halle (Lily Collins), Linda loses her cool, finding herself in deeper trouble when her affair with the younger man is uncovered by snooping students.

The screenplay by Dan and Stacy Chariton carries enough characters and subplots that hint at a more expansive design of Linda’s self-destruction. The film only run 85 minutes, leaving “The English Teacher” in a hurry to solidify relationships, point out personalities, and sort through ruin before the end credits arrives. The feature feels much too simplistic for all the trouble it goes through to arrange future conflicts, hinting at a longer cut that was whittled down to basic ingredients on the way to release.

It’s a shame more time wasn’t allotted to the picture, as the premise promises passable mayhem, watching Linda throw away her sense of reason on a momentary reach for pleasure, so turned on by Jason’s anguished writing that she indulges his forward behavior, unknowingly starting a chain of events that complicates her life immensely. It’s not just the sexual act that unravels the teacher, but her utter commitment to Jason’s play, a ghoulish statement of domestic discontent the author swears was inspired by his own home life with Dr. Tom, requiring artful persuasion to convince skittish Principal Megan (Jessica Hecht) to put on, with cost overruns coming directly out of Linda’s bank account -- a bank check offer Carl takes full advantage of. The titular character also faces a crisis of desirability, watching in horror as Jason quickly leaps into Halle’s arms after Linda shuts down his additional advances, while receiving strange messages of attraction from Dr. Tom, with their relationship moving from combative to understanding as the film unfolds.

Again, there’s much to absorb with “The English Teacher,” yet longtime television director Craig Zisk seems in a hurry to burn through it, perhaps out of fear that he’s boring the audience. The feature isn’t tedious, it’s merely unfunny, with Moore using bottom-shelf Wal-Mart clearance glasses to do most of the acting for her, weaving through various degrees of hysteria as reality squeezes Linda tighter with every turn of events. Satire aimed at high school theater misfortune also falls flat, finding most of the zingers handed to Lane for quick consumption instead of massaging the moments for maximum discomfort. There’s potential here for a twisted romp through bad decisions and worse reactions, with a smooth snowball roll of misfortune that turns Linda into a delirious survivor, not a tepid punchline. However, someone, somewhere lost their nerve, pruning “The English Teacher” down to nondescript indie quirk with the occasional blip of enticing insanity.

Starring: Julianne Moore, Michael Angarano, Greg Kinnear, Nathan Lane, Lily Collins, Fiona Shaw
Director: Craig Zisk

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