×

Film Review: ‘The English Teacher’

An affable if familiar high-school comedy populated by bright pupils, badly behaved teachers and amateur theatricals

With:
Julianne Moore, Michael Angarano, Greg Kinnear, Lily Collins, Fiona Shaw, Norbert Leo Butz, Jessica Hecht, Charlie Saxton, Nathan Lane, Nikki Blonsky, Sophie Curtis.

Graded on a curve, “The English Teacher” is an affable if familiar high-school comedy populated by bright pupils, badly behaved teachers and amateur theatricals. Clearly inspired by — but never as inspired as — the likes of “Election,” “Rushmore” and “Glee,” this feature directing debut for smallscreen vet Craig Zisk (“Weeds,” “The Larry Sanders Show”) benefits from a brisk pace, witty banter and engaging performances, yet still fades from memory faster than a final exam on the first day of summer vacation. A world premiere at Tribeca, which is also partnering with Cinedigm on the pic’s VOD and theatrical distribution, “Teacher” should perform best with the study-from-home crowd.

In a variation on the lovelorn widow she plays in Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Sundance hit “Don Jon,” the always resourceful Moore here stars as Linda Sinclair, a 45-year-old spinster who grades potential suitors with the same unforgiving red pen she brings to her students’ assignments (illustrated in a mildly amusing bad-first-date montage). One night, Linda bumps into (and accidentally pepper-sprays) Jason (Michael Angarano), a former student who has recently returned to their sleepy Pennsylvania hamlet after graduating from NYU and trying unsuccessfully to get a play produced on the New York stage.

When Linda subsequently reads Jason’s play, a dark family drama titled “The Chrysalis,” she proclaims it a masterpiece and resolves that it must be produced as the school’s annual student theatrical, a view soon shared by drama teacher Carl (Nathan Lane), who praises the play as “O’Neill meets Kafka meets Spielberg” and says he will simply go postal if forced to oversee one more staging of school perennial “The Importance of Being Earnest.” Markedly less persuaded are fussbudget principal Jessica Hecht and vice principal Norbert Leo Butz (among the many Broadway regulars who populate the cast). That double suicide at the end is a particular deal breaker.

Nor is the playwright himself initially convinced by the proposition, despite Linda’s repeated plea that she can’t bear the thought of him squandering his talent by going to law school.

You can just about set your watch by the moment at which this teacher-student relationship turns May-December — and then, a bit later, goes all jilted and jealous, after Jason takes an offstage interest in the production’s beautiful leading lady (Lily Collins). Meanwhile, Linda becomes increasingly convinced that she is the only one who can save Jason from his domineering father (Greg Kinnear), whom she imagines to be the model for “The Chrysalis’” abusive paterfamilias. Zisk puts these developments across in serviceable sitcom fashion, with lots of closeups, busy strings on the soundtrack and a pervasive, plasticine backlot sheen. There’s a more daring movie lurking somewhere inside “The English Teacher,” about the ways in which teachers can sometimes live vicariously through their students, and how a standout pupil may become a form of self-validation — a subject the pic ultimately teases without ever really biting into.

Husband-and-wife screenwriters Dan and Stacy Chariton leaven the script with a lot of sly insider references for the theater crowd, from Carl’s reminiscence of a long-ago audition for Stephen Sondheim to a production of “Oklahoma!” he once supposedly directed in the Japanese Noh style. But as with a lot of movies about the making of plays or movies, we never see enough of “The Chrysalis” itself to make heads or tails of it; pic expects viewers to take it for granted that Jason really is a prodigy, though things might have been a good deal more interesting if he weren’t, his mediocre play inflated to genius level by those who want it to be.

Still, the pic’s strongest and funniest scenes are those devoted to the rehearsal process, especially as Carl’s megalomania sends the budget soaring, and the backstage hijinks threaten to usurp the onstage drama, a la Michael Frayn’s classic “Noises Off.” Lane is so typecast here he could probably play the role in a deep cryogenic sleep, though it’s no less of a delight to watch him do it. The other actors acquit themselves well in roles that don’t always allow for much nuanced interpretation.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'The English Teacher'

Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (Spotlight), April 26, 2013. Running time: 91 MIN.

Production: A Cinedigm release presented with Tribeca Film of an Artina Films production in association with JSC Entertainment, Media House Capital and Spring Pictures. Produced by Naomi Despres, Bob Salerno, Ben Leclair, Matthew Chausse. Executive producers, Ron Curtis, Michael Bederman, John Santilli, Mandy Tagger, Adi Ezroni. Co-executive producers, Margo Hand, Patrick Murphy.

Crew: Directed by Craig Zisk. Screenplay, Dan Chariton, Stacy Chariton. Camera (Deluxe color, widescreen), Vanja Cernjul; editor, Myron Kerstein; music, Rob Simonson; music supervisor, Linda Cohen; production designer, Michael Shaw; set decorator, Sarah E. McMillan; costume designer, Emma Potter; sound (Dolby Digital), Ken Ishii; supervising sound editor, Dave Paterson; visual effects supervisor, Vico Sharabani; assistant director/associate producer, Ivan J. Fonseca; casting, Jessica Kelly, Suzanne Smith.

With: Julianne Moore, Michael Angarano, Greg Kinnear, Lily Collins, Fiona Shaw, Norbert Leo Butz, Jessica Hecht, Charlie Saxton, Nathan Lane, Nikki Blonsky, Sophie Curtis.

More Film

  • "Tezuka's Barbara" in competition at Tokyo

    ‘Tezuka’s Barbara’ and ‘A Beloved Wife’ Head for Tokyo Festival Competition

    Two Japanese films, “Tezuka’s Barbara” and “A Beloved Wife” have been selected for the main competition section of next month’s Tokyo International Film Festival. The festival will reveal the remainder of the competition and the bulk of its other selections later this month. To date the Japanese festival has only revealed its opening film (“Tora-san, [...]

  • Garin Nugroho film "Memories of my

    Indonesia Selects Controversial 'Memories' as Oscar Contender

    “Memories of my Body” directed by Garin Nugroho has been selected to represent Indonesia at the Academy Awards in the best foreign-language film category. The announcement was made on Tuesday by actress Christine Hakim representing the Indonesian Film Selection Committee. The fact-based film depicts the story of a young man from a dance troupe that [...]

  • Benjamin Wallfisch - scoring session, Abbey

    Composer Benjamin Wallfisch Signs With Gorfaine/Schwartz Agency

    Composer Benjamin Wallfisch has signed with the Gorfaine/Schwartz Agency (GSA) for worldwide representation, in partnership with London-based agency COOL Music Ltd. A top composer, whose scoring credits include “It Chapter Two,” Shazam!” Hellboy,” “Hidden Figures” and “Hostile Planet,” among others, Wallfisch has worked on over 75 feature films and is a member of the BAFTA [...]

  • The Moneychanger

    Toronto Film Review: ‘The Moneychanger’

    Uruguayan auteur Federico Veiroj (“The Apostate,” “Belmonte”) broadens his usual intimate dramatic scope to diminishing returns for his fifth feature, “The Moneychanger,” . Adapted from a novella by compatriot Juan Enrique Gruber, the period (mid-1950s to mid-1970s) tale centers on the eponymous character, an amoral currency exchanger, who winds up laundering some of the dirtiest [...]

  • Send Me to the Clouds

    Film Review: ‘Send Me to the Clouds’

    The social and economic pressures felt by China’s “leftover women” — referring to those older than 26 and unmarried — are examined in “Send Me to the Clouds,” a rewarding dramedy about a 30-ish journalist seeking financial reward and sexual fulfillment after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Bold by mainland standards for presenting a positive [...]

  • Jamie Bell Without Remorse

    Jamie Bell Joins Michael B. Jordan in 'Without Remorse' Adaptation (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jamie Bell is in final negotiations to join Michael B. Jordan in Paramount’s adaptation of the Tom Clancy novel “Without Remorse.” Stefano Sollima, who most recently helmed “Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” is directing from a script by “Sicaro” screenwriter Taylor Sheridan. As previously announced, Jordan is starring as operations officer John Clark, also known [...]

  • Elizabeth McGovern, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter,

    'Downton Abbey' Movie Sequel? Producers Tease That They Have 'Some Ideas'

    “Downton Abbey” holds the record as the most-nominated international show at the Emmy Awards with 69 nominations and 15 wins — and now, it stands a chance to nab an Oscar. More than three years after the beloved series signed off the air following six critically-acclaimed seasons, “Downton Abbey” is making its big-screen debut. “It [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content