This is the story of the little movie that could have done better. What The English Teacher gets right is the tone and style of the indie sleeper.
NOT QUITE THE MOVIE OF THE WEEK?
Craig Zisk is a first-time film director, but it almost doesn't count because he's directed tons of episodes of TV series&ndashabout 50, they say, including Alias, Nip/Tuck, The Office, Nurse Jackie and Parks and Recreation.
Another indie element that helps to lend this movie some charm is that it is set in a small American town that you've probably never heard of&ndashKingston, Pennsylvania. Apart from that, there's not much else unassuming about this movie.
Most notable of all is that it stars Julianne Moore, Nathan Lane and Greg Kinnear, all of whom are actors adept at turning quirky scripts into hits. Unfortunately, it feels, consistently, as though this is a movie all three took on because they could do it in their sleep.
You do see a flash of the brilliance that Lane, who plays drama teacher Carl Kapinas, displayed in The Birdcage as a campy drag queen, though it does often feel like a carbon copy of the old character.
Kinnear, as the unlikely suitor and misunderstood father, is overly reliant on his perplexed expression and furrowed brow to convey emotion.
Moore as the title character is charming enough. She plays middle-aged teacher Linda Sinclair, who is sliding into spinsterhood. She's a modern-day type of unmarried woman&ndashno cats or dank flat; hers is a cozy and bright home. But Linda's life is empty and lonely outside of the classroom. It does not help that she grades all the dates she has with the same red pen and stern attitude she uses with her pupils. She will accept nothing but excellence.
This is until one of her former students returns to his father's (Kinnear) home after a failed attempt at trying to be recognised as a playwright in New York. Jason Sherwood, played quite endearingly by Michael Angarano, is slightly scruffy and anxious after his confidence-shattering time in the big city.
Remembering him to be one of her most talented students, Linda insists on reading his script, The Chrysalis. She declares it a masterpiece and convinces Jason that he should let them turn his dark tale into the annual school play.
This is a fantastic premise for a contemporary coming-of-age story&ndashthe young pupils and the adults are transformed during this experience.
A central part of the movie is that Linda learns to stop living life by the book. She begins to apply the same passion that she has for literature to other areas in her life.
The fact that the relationships come with modern-day complications gives this old genre a fresh spin. Linda has sex with Jason, whom she later finds canoodling with one of her young and beautiful students, which drives her into a jealous rage. This threatens to ruin her carefully built reputation at school.
Moore is as good as she always is, but she goes no further than necessary to give her character the tools to make her memorable. Angarano, Norbert Leo Butz (as the overbearing vice-principal Phil Pelaski) and Jessica Hecht, who plays the non-confrontational principal Trudie Slocum, are the only actors who seem to be applying themselves in The English Teacher.
Unfortunately, and also most disappointing, is that The English Teacher only flirts with the idea of wit and humour; it never fully takes it on. It's a shame, really, because a movie like this depends on the showcasing of the quirks of its characters and a sparkling script to make it linger in people's memories long after they've left the cinema.
Ultimately, you won't be offended if you do watch The English Teacher. It won't feel like a wasted ticket fee either. However, you'll have the urge to scribble “could have done better” next to your “C” grading&ndashas your teacher used to when she knew you did less than your best.