Thursday, May 16, 2013

Movie with Abe: The English Teacher

The English Teacher
Directed by Craig Zisk
Released May 17, 2013

Julianne Moore is a very prolific actress who has taken on a variety of roles over the past two decades. She has received Oscar nominations for dramatic work in period films like “Far From Heaven” and “The Hours,” and she has ventured into much more light-hearted comedy recently with “The Kids Are All Right” and “Crazy Stupid Love.” Moore is gracefully able to inhabit a role without stealing focus away from those around her, and it’s often that her lead character actually fades into the background rather than taking the spotlight. As in her 2005 film, “The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio,” Moore portrays a simple woman living a simple life which is inexorably altered by events out of her control in the new film “The English Teacher.”

British actress Fiona Shaw begins by narrating the story of Linda Sinclair (Moore), a high school English teacher driven and fulfilled by her lifelong love of reading. When asked by her students if she has ever written anything, Linda emphasizes the importance of readers in the world in addition to writers. In her search for love, Linda grades all of the men she meets, with most disappointing from the very start. When Linda runs into a former student, Jason Sherwood (Michael Angarano), who has become an unsuccessful playwright, she falls in love with his work and decides that, despite its mature content, it should be staged as the high school play.

What ensues is a relatively predictable but still decently entertaining sequence of events which require minimal enthusiasm and energy from Linda. She is a tame character in a story that is prone to harsher language and less mild human responses. A transformative arc does exist for Linda, but ultimately she plays a passing part in her own story, which unfolds around her. Hidden under large glasses, Moore is sheepish but sweet, and her character is sympathetic if not entirely endearing.

The cast is full of familiar faces, including Nathan Lane as the dramatic theater teacher, Greg Kinnear as Jason’s father, and Jessica Hecht (“Friends”) and Norbert Leo Butz (“The Deep End”) as the school’s by-the-book principal and assistant principal, respectively. Director Craig Zisk, who has extensive experience directing comedy television, makes his feature film debut with this completely familiar story that, while it flirts with the inappropriate and the scandalous, is ultimately harmless and generally enjoyable, if almost entirely unmemorable.


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