Review: The English Teacher
PLOT: A lonely, middle-aged high school English teacher (Julianne Moore) has her quiet existence shaken up by the return of a former pupil (Michael Angarano) turned playwright, whose Magnum opus is about to be performed by the schools drama club. She soon comes into conflict with the pupils conservative doctor father (Greg Kinnear), who wants his son to give up his dreams of the stage and enter law school.
REVIEW: THE ENGLISH TEACHER seems tailor-made for VOD. Thats not a knock on the film by any means, as the premise is quirky and clever, the direction is brisk, and the cast is perfect. Its just that THE ENGLISH TEACHER is the kind of movie that maybe feels a little too safe and generic to ever have much of a life theatrically, or even be worth really going out of your way to catch.
However, THE ENGLISH TEACHER plays pretty well on the small-screen, where its quieter charms become a little more noticeable. The most prominent of these charms is the star turn by Julianne Moore, as the titular English teacher. Despite her undeniable allure (at fifty-two, Moore is still gorgeous, even if they try to make her look mousy with a clunky pair of glasses and frumpy clothes), the part seems tailor-made for her. Moores very believable as the kind of teacher who was so passionate about her students that she forgot to make a life for herself outside of class, and suddenly woke up middle aged and alone. Usually, this premise would lend itself to darker fare, with the teachers repressed nature inevitably exploding in some kind of destructive affair with the charismatic pupil (played with the right hint of self-importance by Michael Angarano), and while that still happens, its all played for laughs.
The movie is at its best when it focuses on Moores attempt to stage Angaranos play with the help of the schools self-important drama coach, hilariously played by Nathan Lane. A Stephen Sondheim-worshipping failed actor, Lane hasnt had an opportunity to chew the scenery like this (outside Broadway) in awhile, and its his best work on film in years. The film is less successful when delving into Moores burgeoning relationship with Angaranos father, played by Greg Kinnear. Moore and Kinnear are fine together, but his part is so underwritten that you never really invest in the idea of a potential relationship between him and Moore, even though thats clearly where the film is heading.
While THE ENGLISH TEACHER isnt nearly as funny as the similarly themed HAMLET 2 (one of the most underrated comedies in years), its still a zippy little indie that never bores, and always has your attention. It plays out very much like a feature-length episode of one of the safer cable comedies like WEEDS or THE BIG C, which isnt too much of a surprise, as the director Craig Zisk, has directed episodes of both. On the big screen, THE ENGLISH TEACHER might very well be underwhelming, but at home, its a pleasant enough ninety minutes of entertainment, and worth checking out especially if you like Moore (who doesnt?) and Lane.