Posted by: gdevi | July 12, 2013

Movie Review: The English Teacher (2013)

I saw this movie because of the title; I am an English teacher myself. It is so important to know what Hollywood thinks of English teachers, and not just any English teacher, but an English teacher in the state of Pennsylvania. This movie is about Ms. Linda Sinclair, a high school English teacher in the little town of Kingston, Pennsylvania.  I have never taught high school or in the secondary school system at all–I teach at the university level–but the mere identity of an English teacher puts me in that group of hated public servants in the state of Pennsylvania.  So when I saw the title and watched the trailer, I knew I had to hear this story. As you might know, Pennsylvania is the anti-education state where teachers are not respected at all. The governor of this great state, the elected officials, and through propaganda, a majority of the citizens as well think teachers do nothing and make a lot of money.  Though all teachers, in general, are disrespected in Pennsylvania, those who teach English, Languages, History, Philosophy and other disciplines in the humanities, social sciences and fine arts–anything other than voc tech, that is–are particularly despised by the government and those in the ed biz. As Homer Simpson astutely observed, “English? Who needs English? I am never going to England.”

Now that I have watched this movie, I can confidently say that this movie will not make Pennsylvanians look at their English teachers with renewed respect. Linda Sinclair, the main character, a forty something unmarried woman, a “romantic,” the English teacher, played by Julianne Moore in a sort of pasty, clichéd manner not only cannot tell the difference between life and a playscript, apparently,  but also has impromptu sex on top of a desk in a classroom with a much much younger former male student. The movie is directed by Craig Zisk, and written by Dan and Stacy Chariton, none of whom are English teachers, evidently. I know next to nothing about what coal miners do, but I have seen movies about coal miners. But I wouldn’t write my screenplay based on what other Hollywood movies say about coal miners, would I? That is what Zisk and the Charitons have done in this movie. Though teachers are vilified in our society, Hollywood has certain stereotypes it likes of English teachers. One type of Hollywood English teachers are wonderful, passionate, inspiring, a bit eccentric but not too much–you don’t want really insane people teaching your kids–poetry-spouting, daydreaming, romantic, all about social justice and civil liberty, Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King in Julia Roberts’s body. Or George Clooney’s.  The girls and the boys love them, love them a bit too much. The other Hollywood English teacher is the dried-up old ogre, quoting rules on pronunciation and grammar with a fake British accent. Well, The English Teacher, this movie is actually narrated by someone with a fake British accent; English is, after all, a foreign language to Americans. It is originally from England. (What the *&^(*&(&(^&????)

The plot is stale, old and tired. Linda Sinclair, who belongs to the first category of stereotypes above–the wonderful passionate  romantic sexually repressed English teacher–runs into an old student Jason Sherwood (Michael Angarano), who has just returned to PA after having miserably failed as a playwright in New York. Sinclair takes him under her wings, strokes his ego, boosts his confidence etc and gets him to sign a contract allowing her and the drama teacher at the school, Carl Kapinas (Nathan Lane) to mount a production of his play. See, the entire New York theater world did not get his play, see? But she does.  Making much of those who distinguish themselves in any small way is actually a valid, though superficial, representation of what happens in small towns. “Success” is always relative, isn’t it? So anyway, the students start rehearsing the play, which is where the conflict in the plot is hinged. Now, Sherwood’s play is filled with “dark thoughts,” suicide, homicide, child abuse, neglect, domestic battery etc etc and the principals of the school say that all of this will have to be expurgated in order for the play to be performed at school, in particular, the ending of the play, which includes a suicide. This is really a very hard part of the movie for any thinking person living in Pennsylvania currently to watch and subscribe to. Since when are any of the above dysfunctional behaviors a problem in any of our communities? Where is this school district with such a faint heart? I don’t know. Neither do you.

So all kinds of secret deals to change the play happens. Sherwood also gets an ulcer and right after Sinclair gives him some peptobismol to drink in the classroom, the secret ingredient in peptobismol — Bismuth subsalicylate–I just checked in our medicine cabinet–makes Sherwood incredibly amorous and he pretty much lays the English teacher right there on that classroom desk, spilling that damn peptobismol all over the floor in a pink mess–and they have sex. The movie has a conscience though. All the great writers who hang in photographs all across the classroom walls stare down at the copulating teacher and student with no expression. I am not making any of this up.

Naturally, Sherwood, being 21 or something, soon gravitates towards the young student who plays the lead in the play, and now we are led to suspend our disbelief through another dishonest conundrum that this teenage making-out makes Linda Sinclair jealous. Some more terrible things happen, none of which merits telling. Moving on, the teacher gets fired, gets into an accident, gets healed, gets rehired, the play is produced, the play is a success, everybody claps their hands etc etc. Finally, the English teacher goes out on a date with Sherwood’s father, a divorced doctor, played by Greg Kinnear. They connect at a bookstore over the biography of Arthur Conan Doyle.  Who is better at sex, son or the father? Or, did Sinclair find love at last? Solve that mystery, Sherlock. Really, what world are you living in, Craig Zisk and Dan and Stacy Chariton?

This is a bad movie. What is the point of this movie, really? Whether Hollywood has bothered to check it out or not, English teachers and drama teachers in small town schools and communities live decent lives.  Usually, their lives are not involved in propping up rejects and failures from New York city or Los Angeles. This movie seems to think that people in small towns and small towns themselves are sort of dumb, and that these English teachers and Drama teachers are the arbiters of “taste” and “high brow culture.” It is the worst form of pandering. They are pandering to themselves, really. I wouldn’t recommend this movie at all.

Now, here is a YouTube clip of the Comedy Central’s Key and Peele’s Substitute Teacher. This is what our kids are actually watching in Pennsylvania. It is completely politically incorrect, but totally entertaining!

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