You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The English Teacher’

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

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.

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

  • 'The Apollo' Review: A Legendary Theater

    Tribeca Film Review: 'The Apollo'

    You should never take for granted a documentary that fills in the basics with flair and feeling. Especially when the basics consist of great big gobs of some of the most revolutionary and exhilarating popular art ever created in this country. Roger Ross Williams’ documentary “The Apollo,” which kicked off the Tribeca Film Festival on [...]

  • Playwright Mark Medoff author of "Children

    Mark Medoff, 'Children of a Lesser God' Playwright, Dies at 79

    Mark Medoff, the playwright who wrote Tony Award-winning play “Children of a Lesser God,” died Tuesday in Las Cruces, N.M. He was 79. His daughter Jessica Medoff Bunchman posted news of his death on Facebook, and the Las Cruces Sun-News attributed the cause to cancer. “Children of a Lesser God” starred John Rubinstein and Phyllis Frelich [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Interscope Films Relaunches With Full Slate at Tribeca (EXCLUSIVE)

    The Interscope record label’s interest in film/music crossover isn’t exactly a secret: With hit companion albums for “A Star Is Born,” “Black Panther” and “La La Land,” they’ve seemed to own the soundtrack space at times in recent years. And the company hasn’t completely made a secret of its desire to move into film production. [...]

  • Avengers: Endgame

    'Avengers: Endgame': Fans and Theaters Assemble for Biggest Marvel Movie Ever

    For San Diego resident Shawn Richter, “Avengers: Endgame” is more than the conclusion to a monumental period in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As the West Coast branch chair of Avengers Initiative, a cosplay charity that raises money for causes like the Ronald McDonald House Children’s Charities, the comics of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are [...]

  • Jillian Bell appears in Brittany Runs

    Amazon's 'Brittany Runs a Marathon' Sets Summer Release

    “Brittany Runs a Marathon” will be rushing to theaters on Aug. 23. Amazon Studios dated the comedy on Wednesday. The pic, starring Jillian Bell (“Rough Night,” “22 Jump Street”), won the audience award at the Sundance Film Festival. The flick follows the titutal Brittany, who decides to run around New York City in order to [...]

  • Lionsgate Hires Lynn Whitney in Marketing

    Lionsgate Hires Former Warner Bros. Exec Lynn Whitney

    Lionsgate announced Wednesday that Lynn Whitney will become head of worldwide paid media, partnerships, promotions and consumer products. Whitney was formerly the executive VP of worldwide media at Warner Bros.   In her new role, Whitney will build out media campaigns for movies like Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron’s romantic comedy “Long Shot.” “I am [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content