April 29, 2013 – Celebrating its 10th anniversary this spring, the Tribeca Film Festival took the quaint New York City neighborhood by storm last week. One of its feature film’s, the Indy comedy-drama “The English Teacher” staring Julianne Moore, Greg Kinnear and Nathan Lane, premiered at the festival and will open in limited release in theaters across the country on May 17.
Moore plays the English teacher, fortysomething year old Linda Sinclair, whose humdrum life makes the likes of Dickens’ character Miss Havisham look exciting. Linda finally finds a purpose outside of the classroom when she helps former student Jason Sherwood (Michael Angarano) realize his dreams of becoming a playwright.
After graduating from NYU with a degree in creative writing, Jason is about to give up on his dream of writing and go to law school. When he comes home to visit his father, he runs in to Linda who is upset he plans to give up his art, and asks to read his play. She shares it with the school’s drama teacher, Carl (Lane) and together they convince the principal to allow them to put on the production in lieu of “The Importance of Being Ernest” for the umpteenth time. Jason’s play is a dark, suicide-ridden work that both Linda and Carl deem brilliant, but it really isn’t appropriate for high school students. Still, they get the OK to proceed.
The repressed Linda finds her world come alive once casting and rehearsals begin. She’s not used to forming bonds with three-dimensional people, only the characters that live in classic literature. Needless to say, it’s the teacher who learns the real lesson here. This is the first time in Linda’s life she is having fun, and like everyone with little experience, she crosses the line and doesn’t know where to stop.
The performances were on par, but nothing out of the ordinary. Moore is always good and Kinnear, who plays Jason’s father, Dr. Sherwood, perhaps turns in the best performance as the misunderstood dad. It’s Lane who plays it over the top as usual, and this time not in a fun way because he almost seems uncomfortable in the role of the drama teacher who craves attention and lies about his accomplishments to get more of it. He is the one character who finds no redemption in the film.
The story has a few heartwarming moments, and I enjoyed watching the evolution of Moore’s character during the 93 minutes it played out. But there were too many uncomfortable moments that had me gasping “that would never happen, and if it did, it would be dealt with differently.” Not that it tried to be, but “The Prime of Miss Jean Brody” or “To Sir With Love” this film is not. And if there was a moral to this story – and there should be one – I missed it.
Television director Craig Zisk, whose credits include Scrubs, Alias, Weeds and United States of Tara, gets his first nod on a motion picture in this cliché at times tale of self-discovery. Are all English teacher’s really spinsters as the film insinuates? Hardly.
Don’t expect this one to break any box office records. It’s a small film that probably won’t make it to wide release, but it will still find a following of fans that like this style. For fans of Moore, Kinnear or Lane, you can probably wait until to makes it to the Netflix circuit by the end of the summer.
5. Great Movie, see it now
4. Good movie and worth the price of admission
3. It’s OK, but I’d wait for the DVD
2. Proceed with caution
1. Don’t bother