‘The English Teacher’ Movie Review – Conflicting Conflict
It might sound like a broken record when I bring up characters and how much they mean to a story. However, even besides characters, every good movie/story needs a good conflict. Without conflict, it simply isn’t a story. Or at least a compelling story. Looking at Craig Zisk’s The English Teacher, characters and conflict both work against a movie with a decent cast.
The movie starts with an introduction into Linda Sinclair’s (Julianne Moore) life, a life of emotional teaching but unemotional love. She’s the, yes you guessed it, english teacher at the local high school (located in Kingston, Pennsylvania). Despite her best efforts, Ms. Sinclair can’t find anyone that fits into her classic definition of love. As she says in the movie, she’d be a hypocrite to her students if she settled.
It’s glimpses like these that make the plot seem like it could work. It might be a joke that somebody settles in every relationship. But finding that perfect somebody is a conflict many movies have tried to use.
The English Teacher moves away from Ms. Sinclair’s love life and focuses next on Jason Sherwood (Michael Angarano), Ms. Sinclair’s former student. A great writer and recent graduate of NYU, Jason finds himself struggling to make it as a playwright. When Ms. Sinclair gets ahold of his screenplay, she uses it a) boost his self-esteem and b) boost the lagging play productions at the high school.
The film also stars Greg Kinnear (Little Miss Sunshine) as Jason’s father, Nathan Lane (The Lion King) as the drama teacher, and Lily Collins (Mirror Mirror) as the leading lady.
The ensuing conflict, some of which involves Collins’ character, is where the story starts to unravel. Not only does it feel extremely accelerated, but it makes it all seem too artificial. It still baffles me that movies cannot seem to create a high school that is even half believable. In this case, the movie throws around words like “naive” and “hypocrite,” when their product is both of these words.
The tone doesn’t help either. It sets out to be light-hearted and comedic. Unfortunately, it’s doesn’t land the one thing it needs: laughs. It feels like a TV show and for good reason (look at Zisk’s TV filmography), but it’s one of those not-so-funny comedies that wouldn’t even make it through to the second season.
But still, there are interesting parts of the minor conflicts. One of which involves the playwriting process. Jason adamantly fights for his ending, arguing that it’s true to his story. It sets up an ending (to the film) that can follow the same guidelines. The ending shapes the overall conflict of the play, just like it’s supposed to in The English Teacher.
It shouldn’t need the eye-rolling voiceover to point out this meta aspect.
“Interesting” isn’t enough for Craig Zisk’s The English Teacher. The story doesn’t have time to breathe – although I don’t know how much better this film could’ve been if it were drawn out – and the conflict is primarily to blame. I’ve said that word a lot, but it seriously undermines what the characters are trying to do. Part of the point might be the film’s hypocrisy and overcoming it, but that doesn’t make up for all the shortcomings.
The English Teacher is now available in limited release throughout the U.S.
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