Title: The English Teacher
Director: Craig Zisk
Screenwriter: Dan Chariton, Stacy Chariton
Cast: Julianne Moore, Michael Angarano, Greg Kinnear, Lily Collins, Nathan Lane
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 5/1/13
Opens: May 17, 2013
They say that the best way to learn a subject is to teach it, and, as a former high school chalk-pusher I heartily agree. In Craig Zisk’s “The English Teacher,” the title character teaches the likes of “A Tale of Two Cities” while some of the greats taped to the walls like Mark Twain overlook the classroom. The teacher represents learning a lot about Charles Dickens by searching out good questions for classroom discussion. But what this teacher needs to learn about of which she has been content to know little is romance. In a hackneyed but amusing set of interviews with a series of losers whom she blind-dates, she grades each of the men, e.g. an F for a narcissist who doesn’t even have money to pay the check and a C for a bore with a mustache. It’s not easy to find true love when you’re forty-five, but thanks to Dan Chariton and Stacy Chariton who wrote the script for “The English Teacher,” she’s about to learn that the best way to find the love of your life is not to seek it.
“The English Teacher” is light, featuring razor-sharp comic timing by the performers and is bookended by an unseen narrator (Fiona Shaw), a woman who is determined to keep the status quo. The narrator’s wish is in no uncertain terms that teacher Linda Sinclair (Julianne Moore) is best off doing what she’s doing, which is to buy nutritious meals from the local market in Kingston, Pennsylvania (actually filmed in New York villages like Tarrytown), and to curl up with yet another good book. She wears aviator glasses to accentuate her spinster rigidity though the time period is current. When Ms. Sinclair meets cute Jason Sherwood (Michael Angarano), a former student whom she pepper-sprays, assuming the approaching guy was a mugger, she empathizes with his angst: he tried his luck selling screenplays with no favorable response but he wins accolades from Linda Sinclair for a new work which she intends to put on for her high school’s annual stage production.
The play idea, opposed at first with the principal (Jessica Hecht) and assistant principal (Norbert Leo Butz) because of its dark ending will prove the catalyst to bring her out of her shell, though truth be told she is not really an introvert but expressive enough to garner enthusiasm not only from Jason but from drama teacher Carl Kapinas (Nathan Lane).
Clichés abound: the son who is misunderstood by his dad Tom Sherwood M.D. (Greg Kinnear), the older man insisting that his son go to law school; the school officials who worry about what parents might say if the play were controversial; a brief flash of passion between young Jason and the English teacher; competition the teacher faces from Halle Anderson (Lily Collins) a pretty co-ed in the lead role of the play. But given Julianne Moore’s wide-ranging talent as one of our best thesps for the past twenty years (she doesn’t have to stretch herself much with this story) and cute touches like scribbles on the screen to depict the thoughts of some characters, “The English Teacher” makes for light, enjoyable entertainment.
Unrated. 93 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B-
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B