For its A-list cast alone, I'm surprised that "The English Teacher" didn't get a wider distribution or more notoriety. In my world, any time Julianne Moore headlines an indie film, it's time to take notice! Here, Moore is joined by Greg Kinnear, Nathan Lane, Michael Angarano, and Lily Collins for a slight, but not unappealing, comedy about (you guessed it) an idealistic teacher. In looking at some of the other notices, I must admit I'm absolutely shocked by the moral outrage that this film seems to have engendered in certain viewers. The film is so lightweight, I'm just mystified that people have taken it so seriously. Let's just put it this way: if you find the content of "The English Teacher" horrifying, then you must not watch TV, movies, the news, or have any knowledge of the real world. The situations and plot lines in the film's screenplay are so far removed from reality, in fact, that I wonder what all the fuss is about. Are teachers in movies supposed to be saints? Anything else is unacceptable? I don't subscribe to this philosophy, obviously, and have no issues with the primary plot points from a moral standpoint.
Moore plays a steadfast English teacher. Living in complete routine, she has all but given up on love. When she encounters a former student (Angarano), her passion is channeled in a more artistic way. He has failed to break into the theater world in New York, but she embraces his original play and attempts to have it produced at the local high school. As she and director Lane battle school bureaucracy, the film devotes itself to the production. Although this milieu is ripe for satire (Waiting for Guffman style), the movie never really swings for big laughs. It's mildly amusing at best. Moore has an indiscretion that threatens to derail the play, her career, and her life and the story takes on a rather mean spirited bent. But never one to dwell on the serious for long, you know things are undoubtedly going to work out. And as the play hits the stage, the moral of the lesson seems to be that it's OK to sell out your artistic integrity if the results are positive! Yeah!
I'll try to break down my feelings about the movie concisely. My main issue with "The English Teacher" is that it can never really decide what it wants to be. Is it a second chance romance? Is it a satire of the high school theater scene? Is it a character study about a woman searching for depth and meaning from life? Is it a slapstick comedy? Is it a tale of redemption? The movie touches on all of these topics without ever really committing one way or another. It's likable. It's watchable. But I wanted the comedy to be funnier or the drama to be more believable. As is, this flight of fancy never approximates real world situations but never fully commits to its fantasy nature either. It's pleasant and the cast is good, but it might have been something truly special! That said, if you are a fan of Moore, she gives a great performance. Angarano and Lane are also well cast, but Kinnear gets the movie's most underwritten part. The movie has a lot of good ideas, but seems to want to please everyone with a lighthearted charm. That's why I'm particularly stunned by the moral outrage, the movie is as inoffensive as can be because it constantly skirts away from any real drama. KGHarris, 8/13.