Monday, May 20, 2013

THE ENGLISH TEACHER: Ms Moore shines (again!) in Craig Zisk's high-school hosing

How comfortable it is to settle into an old-fashioned (except maybe for some of the sex), funny, charming and well-written/directed/
acted movie that hits all the bases and arrives safe at home plate -- on a bunt. This is the situation in which we find ourselves in Craig Zisk's very enjoyable but rather predictable new film, THE ENGLISH TEACHER. And I do not mean that as anything but a compliment, although it's a mild one about a mild little movie. And yet. This is a film that seems to know exactly what it wants to accomplish and does just that, entertaining us quite well in the process. If it breaks no new ground, so be it. As one of my several mothers used to tell me, when I was given to complaint, "For goodness sake, Jimmy, just sit back and appreciate what's in front of you!"

And that, dear readers, is exactly what I'd suggest of you. What you'll find in front of you, first and foremost, is another fine performance from Julianne Moore, above, fresh off her triumph in What Maisie Knew. Here she plays an uptight teacher of high-school English, who has mostly found her pleasure in life from the great books she is so good at teaching to her classes. When a talented ex-pupil of hers returns to town, with an unproduced play he's written in hand, event piles upon event until comedy and melodrama collide and a lot of (expected) change occurs.

Mr Zisk, shown at right, hails from television, where he has directed everything from Felicity to Scrubs, Weeds to Smash. He clearly knows how to juggle and burnish the themes provided by his screenwriters (Dan Chariton and Stacy Chariton) -- repression, creativity, trust and betrayal -- into something appealing. The plot is not, shall we say, shockingly original, but it does have a few surprises up its sleeve. Let's just leave it at that so that any spoilers remain at bay. What the movie also has -- in spades -- is an excellent cast, with each member used by the director for all s/he is worth.

Greg Kinnear (above, right), again playing a doctor (and looking every bit as fine and fit as he did thirteen years ago in Nurse Betty) provides the older heart-throb, while Michael Angarano (below, left) plays the younger version, as that playwright who is both more and less than he may seem. Mr. Angarano should be seen here and in last month's The Brass Teapot, if only to get a whiff of this young man's versatility.

Nathan Lane (below) is everything you'd expect as the school's drama teacher, proving once again that he can spin the most clichéd material into -- if not gold -- at least gold leaf.

Also in the cast and quite good are Broadway stars Jessica Hecht and Norbert Leo Butz as, respectively, the school's Principal and Vice Principal, and Lily Collins (below) as the student who lands the lead in the play that creates the rumpus.

Technical credits look for the most part like standard, acceptable network television, but a special mention must be made of the delicious narration offered by Fiona Shaw, whom we never see but only hear. This is perhaps the screenwriter's finest creation, and Ms Shaw delivers each succulent line with verve and snap. In the final scene, in fact, she suddenly becomes such a character that you may well leave this movie remembering her most of all.

The English Teacher, via Cinedigm and Tribeca Film and running a just-about-perfect 93-minute length, is currently playing in the L.A. area (at Sundance Sunset Cinemas and the Laemmle Playhouse 7) and will open here in Manhattan this Friday, May 31 (at the Village East Cinema). Click here to see all currently scheduled playdates.

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