In every classroom across America there was some variation of the chair in the corner of the room with the dunce cap sitting on top of the chair waiting for the next wayward child to take their seat in the punishment chair. Never has a piece of furniture perhaps served struck such fear amongst children or commanded as much respect as the "time-out" chair in the American educational system.
And just as the classroom setting might have the dunce chair for a poorly behaving young child to go sit in, documentaries have their own set of a dunce chair. However, documentarians need not worry about scrunching down into a small piece of childhood furniture, rather, they must ensure their own work is interesting and informative for fear of having a critical movie review written about their work.
Unfortunately for those involved in the film, Class Act is being sent to the corner chair.
Directed by Sara Sackner, Class Act looks to the American educational system with a critical glance with respect to the lack of value and emphasis that is being put upon the arts aspect of a child's educational development. While certainly the topic is an interesting one, perhaps it is too narrow of a focus as the larger issue at hand really is that the American students are not having enough money invested in their education as a whole.
Released in 2006, the film attempts to correlate the importance upon having a well established arts program directly to the success or lack thereof that a child will experience in school. The movie tries to simplify the equation of what education is all about to a belief amongst at least the director that a child without arts will not succeed and a child with arts will rise above the rest. Again, this narrow approach might work for the purposes of the movie but certainly falls short in a practical sense.
And while the movie does a decent job reaching out to people across the spectrum of both education and the arts, the movie's main focus is on a Miami Beach drama teacher named Jay Jensen and the work that he has done with the children that he has mentored. Jensen's students both past and present, who include successful actors like Andy Garcia, formed a unique bond with their drama instructor and many of them credit their professional career success directly back to the work that Jensen was capable of.
But again the leap is once again taken to then link the success of their professional careers then back to the arts because had the arts not been around to be taught, then the students would never have had Jensen as a teacher and therefore there would have been no success amongst these individuals.
The problem with this theory is that it rules out the very real likelihood that the real reason for the success of the one time students was not the arts, but instead was Jensen. Though Jensen's passion was for drama, would Jensen not have had an equally important role in his students' lives had he been a history teacher? Not all of us credit the arts to our success, but the majority of us can all remember a teacher that positively impacted our lives in one way or another.
The message of Class Act perhaps would have been much stronger had the movie done just this: focus on the fact that the American educational system is struggling because it is difficult to find good teachers to teach our children. Just as we hope to invest in our children, we should also invest in our teachers so there are many more Jay Jensen's teaching our children in all subjects.
Sackner, who was assisted in the creation of this movie by other documentarians such as Morgan Spurlock, Joe Morley and Heather Winters had an interesting premise with which to work but it seems to have simply fallen short. The zoomed in focus on only the arts also made several points in the film seem redundant and almost exactly what was just watched five minutes prior.
On the surface, Class Act could have been a rather decent film or perhaps better served as a thirty minute special on a television show like Dateline. However, as created, it does not muster up a passing grade.