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The English Teacher(2013)
An English teacher's life is disrupted when a former student returns to her small town after failing as a playwright in New York.
For more about The English Teacher and the The English Teacher Blu-ray release, see the The English Teacher Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on September 4, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.5 out of 5.
Starring: Julianne Moore, Michael Angarano, Greg Kinnear, Nathan Lane, Lily Collins, Fiona Shaw
Director: Craig Zisk
» See full cast & crew
The English Teacher Blu-ray Review
Taking it apart.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, September 4, 2013
Common wisdom states that typically the most important adult in any kid's life other than his parents is quite often a beloved teacher. Most of us have had at least one teacher in our lives whom we still remember with fondness and who affected our lives in perhaps unexpectedly profound ways. It probably goes without saying that the teachers we most admire and remember the best tend to be those who tutored us in subjects we loved anyway and therefore it shouldn't come as any great surprise that one of my own personal favorites was my high school junior year Honors English teacher, a nattily dressed, smallish man who encouraged my writing, eventually nominating me for a supposedly prestigious national award, which I ended up winning, something that allowed me to start writing professionally for newspapers (remember those?) while I was still in high school, forging the way for what eventually became my career. This dryly acerbic individual took no intellectual prisoners and continually challenged all of his students to really think about what they were writing and/or reading. Julianne Moore's character of Linda Sinclair in The English Teacher is exactly the same type of mentor to her students that my long ago professor was, with one notable exception. Our teacher proudly announced his engagement to us one fine day, obviously expecting a lot of curious questions about his fiancée and the upcoming nuptials; unfortunately, that very same day some student had somehow found out that our teacher was a cousin of a major music star who was then Top 10 material, and instead of peppering the teacher with questions about his marriage, everyone wanted all the "dish" on the cousin—such are the vagaries of high school life. In Ms. Sinclair's case, there is no engagement announcement of any kind due to the fact that there are no—and probably never will be—any impending nuptials. Ms. Sinclair is, as the weirdly British accented opening narration informs us, a "spinster", one who has forsaken the comfort of romantic relationships for a lifetime of interaction with literature. Ms. Sinclair follows in the grand tradition of cinematic teachers who inspire and nurture their students, supposedly helping them to come to a better understanding of not only the world around them, but of themselves as well. That all begins to crumble rather dramatically when one of Sinclair's most promising students, a would be playwright named Jason Sherwood (Michael Angarano), returns from Manhattan to the tiny village of Kingston, Pennsylvania to lick his wounds after not having been able to successfully market a play he's written. Sinclair offers to read the piece, falls in love with it and goes into overdrive in an attempt to have the high school where she teaches and where Jason was once a student stage it. This is supposedly where, in that time honored adage, "hilarity ensues", except that The English Teacher can't make up its mind whether or not it wants to play to people's funny bones or their more sincere emotions.
Good English teachers will often caution their students to maintain a consistent point of view and tone in their writing, but at least one of those elements went by the wayside in the screenplay by Dan and Stacy Chariton. The point of view isn't a problem—that is resolutely Linda's, despite the really odd bookending narration which seems ported over from a bus and truck version of Bridget Jones's Diary. The problem here is tone. Is The English Teacher supposed to be a farce? It would seem so, especially after Linda and Jason become intimate, and most especially with regard to the over the top drama teacher Carl Kapinas (Nathan Lane), who himself seems to be a long lost cousin of Corky St. Clair (hmmm. . . .St. Clair, Sinclair—mere coincidence?) from Waiting for Guffman. But there's a downright smarmy quality to a lot of this film that undercuts any comedic edge. Note for example how when Jason gets a late night phone call from Linda congratulating him on the brilliance of his play how his free hand is resolutely stuffed down the front of his tighty whiteys—and, no, that is not a typo.
In fact The English Teacher engages in at least as much melodrama as it does in its supposed humor, leading to a weirdly unbalanced feel for most of the film. While the humor is occasionally wryly amusing—Sinclair "grades" her dates with little superimposed comments the viewer can see (screenshot 3 of "guest date" John Hodgman shows what this technique looks like)—but a lot of it is frankly flat and uninvolving. The drama, on the other hand, is of the potboiler variety. Jason is at war with his doctor father (Greg Kinnear), a man who wants Jason to give up his failed dream of writing and pursue a more "respectable" career. And Linda and Carl are at war with the school administrators, both of whom feel Jason's very dark play is not the sort of thing a high school should be presenting.
It's perhaps indicative of the misfire that The English Teacher largely is that some of the ostensible dramatic elements are those which really should have been mined for comedy. Jason's play just seems to be a weird surreal mishmash of ideas and techniques (including everything from a vicious Irish mother to a—and, no, this is not a typo—a Moth Queen who emerges from a cocoon late in the proceedings), but instead of going for the gusto with absurd depictions of all of this silliness, this part of the film is mostly played straight.
If there's a saving grace to be had here, it comes courtesy of a game cast that tries the best it can to bring this often turgid material to life. Moore is effectively "de-glammed", playing a dowdy middle aged woman who becomes unwisely involved with her former student and quickly turns into a scheming jealous lover when Jason turns his affections to the young ingénue (played by Lily Collins) in the cast. Angarano continues to impress with every new film he's in. I recently called his performance in Empire State as the best thing in that film. If he's not quite as distinctive here, he's working with a much less showy character, but he's believable, both tough and vulnerable as is called for in various parts of the story. Sadly, both Kinnear and Lane are largely wasted. Kinnear's part seems to be an afterthought of sorts, one that is especially ill used at the film's supposed "feel good" finale. Lane is playing a parody of a parody, as if his Modern Family character Pepper Saltzman had ended up as a high school drama teacher in rural Pennsylvania. Director Craig Zisk, best known for his television work, doesn't really shape the shapeless material much, but he at least catches some glorious views of autumnal hillsides, adding a little environmental color to what is otherwise a pretty pallid effort.
The English Teacher Blu-ray, Video Quality
The English Teacher is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Cinedigm with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.40:1. Despite being a film of recent vintage, The English Teacher has a curiously kind of blah looking high definition transfer. Things are certainly okay looking by any reasonable standard, with decent color and fine detail, but nothing ever really pops with any true immediacy or overwhelming impact, and offering a somewhat soft ambience quite a bit of the time. Contrast remains strong, allowing the transitions from outdoors to inside of the school or other interiors to flow seamlessly, and there were certainly no compression artifacts that jumped out to my eyes, this being a rather short film roomily housed on a BD-50. But while occasionally lovely moments—like some of the nicely autumnal exteriors—do in fact crop up, the bulk of this film, while acceptable on every objective level, never approaches a significant wow factor.
The English Teacher Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The English Teacher features a perfectly serviceable DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track that delivers the dialogue and occasional musical moments (including Lane singing a little snippet of Stephen Sondheim's "Putting it Together") very well. Dynamic range is minimal in this film, but fidelity remains strong, with no damage of any kind to report.
The English Teacher Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The English Teacher Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
When you're confronted by a cast list which includes Julianne Moore, Greg Kinnear and Nathan Lane, you probably go into a film expecting something breezy and at least amusing, if not flat out hilarious. Somewhere along the line The English Teacher lost whatever comedic spark it might have had. It still shows up in dribs and drabs, as in the early montage of Linda's dating "grade system", but the bulk of this film is tired, predictable and often too unseemly and melodramatic for its own good. Adding insult to injury is a kind of uninspiring visual style that never really is able to amount to much on Blu-ray.
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