Film review: ‘The English Teacher’ could stand to be smarter

Michael Angarano and Julianne Moore star in the high school-set comedy "The English Teacher" Credit: Cinedigm
Michael Angarano and Julianne Moore star in the high school-set comedy “The English Teacher.”
Credit: Cinedigm

‘The English Teacher’
Director: Craig Zisk
Stars: Julianne Moore, Michael Angarano
Rating:
2 (out of 5) Globes

Perhaps this wasn’t the intention of the filmmakers, but “The English Teacher” makes a strong case for not spending all your time reading and thinking life should be as dramatic as a good book. After all, that’s what’s Julianne Moore’s titular character does here.

Moore is all prim and pedantic as Linda, a studious spinster who teaches English at a small-town high school. She’s spent most of her life reading the classics instead of experiencing the world around her. One of her former students, a failed, ulcer-stricken playwright (Michael Angarano), returns to town and gives her his play to read. She feels this piece — a tear-jerking downer called “The Chrysalis” — is a masterpiece. She even stages an ambitious theatrical production featuring her school’s students, just so he won’t give up on writing to appease his father (Greg Kinnear).

As inspirational as this sounds, “Teacher” is basically in it for laughs. Directed by TV’s Craig Zisk (“Weeds,” “Parks and Recreation”), the movie plays more like a farcical version of “Notes From a Scandal,” especially once Moore and Angarano’s characters briefly get it on — on top of Moore’s classroom desk, no less. This sets off a chain of events in which secrets are revealed, lies are told and our poor, well-read protagonist has to redeem herself once she falls from grace.

“Teacher” is one of those indie comedies that’s supposedly hiding a dark, cynical streak under its sunny, sophisticated surroundings. Most of the broadly written, adult characters (Nathan Lane steals scenes, as always, as the drama teacher who directs the play) deceive one another to get what they want. Needless to say, they end up coming off even more juvenile and self-involved then the teenagers they’re supposed to educate.

And yet, it’s ultimately much too safe and sweet to pull out any truly uncomfortable stops. Even the fate of Moore’s character turns out more implausibly pleasant than you’d expect. Considering how teachers can get dismissed these days just by posting sexy photos of themselves on Facebook, she definitely gets off lightly.

As much as “The English Teacher” tells you to get your head out of the books and face reality (wasn’t that the same lesson Robin Williams gave Matt Damon in “Good Will Hunting”?) the movie is as flimsy, lightweight and improbable as the average pulp paperback – and even more flexible.


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