Saturday 24 April 2021

Movie Review: The English Teacher (2013)

A romantic comedy-drama, The English Teacher explores personal dreams, disappointments and disasters in a quaint milieu.

In small-town Kingston, Pennsylvania, Linda Sinclair (Julianne Moore) is a fortysomething high school English teacher. A lover of books since childhood, Linda is unmarried and has no prospects. Instead she dedicates her life to instilling a love of literature in her students. Former star student Jason Sherwood (Michael Angarano) returns to Kingston, having graduated from New York University but despondent that his first theatrical script, The Chrysalis, was not produced. 

Jason is now yielding to pressure from his father Tom (Greg Kinnear), a doctor at the local hospital, to enrol in law school. But Linda is determined to keep Jason's playwright dream alive and teams up with drama teacher Carl Kapinas (Nathan Lane) to produce The Chrysalis as a high school production. But the play's ending may be too downbeat for students and their parents, and an unexpected moment of lust during rehearsals changes everything.

A modest independent production, The English Teacher frolics with a faux-haughty vibe underlined by Fiona Shaw's literary narration. Director Craig Zisk respects the unassuming ambitions of the script by Dan and Stacy Chariton, maximizing enjoyment from the idyllic small-town setting, Linda's schoolteacher perspective on all the men in her life (they all get evaluated and graded with on-screen scribbles), and a steady, but appropriately marginally theatrical, Julianne Moore performance. 

The Charitons pack their story with parallel tales of unfulfilled expectations. Linda never found her man, Jason could not get his play produced in New York, and drama teacher Carl never made it as an actor. Now Linda and Carl want to vicariously find their triumphant moments through Jason's play, but trampling on the first work of a sensitive young man carries the potential for calamity and humour.

The film avoids most rom-com cliches and explores opportunities for romance, jealousy and lust from the other side of 40. Linda may be alone but she is not done looking for Mr. Right, except that at her age, she is meeting all the Mr. Wrongs. Young, passionate and emotionally broken Jason bursts back into her life, presenting an opportunity for a self-affirming reclamation project if nothing else.

Of course with Jason sowing wild oats and moving on to frolicking with women his age, including student production lead actress Halle (Lily Collins), Linda finds herself dealing with uncontrollable pangs of jealousy, leading to frazzled, potentially career-threatening actions. It's time for The English Teacher to let her hair down and take some risks, even it means the pepper spray has to come out.

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