By Don Simpson | May 16, 2013
Director: Craig Zisk
Writers: Dan Chariton, Stacy Chariton
Starring: Julianne Moore, Michael Angarano, Greg Kinnear, Nathan Lane, Lily Collins, Fiona Shaw, Jessica Hecht, Nikki Blonsky, Charlie Saxton, Erin Wilhelmi, Norbert Leo Butz, Sophie Curtis
From the onset of The English Teacher, one thing is made abundantly clear, Linda (Julianne Moore) always has been and always will be a romantic. A dreamer with fictional expectations of love, Linda is destined to live a life of solitude as an aging spinster. She buries her head in Merchant-Ivory films and classic literature whenever she is not lecturing to her high school English class about A Tale of Two Cities, a job she finds to be enjoyably fulfilling. It is important to note that Linda is neither pathetic nor cartoonish; embodied perfectly by Julianne Moore, Linda’s homely plainness seems perfectly natural.
One night, Linda accidentally pepper-sprays Jason (Michael Angarano), a former student who has recently returned to his quaint hometown of Kingston. A graduate of NYU’s prestigious writing program, Jason has already lost his faith in writing as a viable career option; his return home serves a chance for him to switch gears, at the prodding of his father (Greg Kinnear). Jason lends a copy of his thesis stageplay, The Chrysalis, to Linda; after bawling for over thirty minutes (payback for the pepper-spray?), Linda proclaims the play to be a masterpiece. Hating to see Jason give up on something he excels at, Linda promises to do whatever she can to get his play produced. Unfortunately for Jason, Linda’s only theatrical connection is the high school drama teacher (Nathan Lane). Rather than putting on yet another production of The Importance of Being Artist, the school reluctantly agrees to showcasing their former student’s prodigious work; however, there is one sticking point, the double suicide ending must be changed to something less dark. The hope is that Jason will never find out about that change.
Screenwriters Dan Chariton and Stacy Chariton do a commendable job of keeping the dialogue of The English Teacher intelligent and witty; if only the narrative arc was treated with the same freshness. Regardless of the fantastic dialogue, this is a story that has been told a million times before, just never with someone of Moore’s talents. While Nathan Lane and Greg Kinnear play their usual typecast characters, The English Teacher features a side of Moore that I have never seen before. It is difficult to deny that Moore gives 200% in each and every scene of this film, but that is just not enough to save the plot from meandering banality. For a film that preaches the importance of artistic integrity and literary fortitude, the overall plot of this film (especially the conclusion) plays a bit too — dare I say — trite.