The main character here is a finicky woman who even grades her suitors! When not teaching, she spends most of her time reading books by her favorite authors. She avoids personal relationships and enjoys an uncomplicated life free from real drama -- at least until a former student shows up and brings out another side of her -- which changes her in ways she never expected. Although not a pretty sight, it’s a very entertaining one.
One evening, Linda Sinclair (Moore) gets a big surprise when the man she pepper sprays -- because she thinks he’s a mugger -- turns out to be Jason Sherwood (Michael Angarano), a previous star pupil who moved to New York to become a playwright. Jason now feels disillusioned about his talent and is thinking about following his father’s (Greg Kinnear) wishes about going to law school. Saying this upsets Linda is an understatement, especially after Jason lets her read his edgy play, The Chrysalis. Linda’s avoidance of personal involvement in the real world quickly becomes a thing of the past as she decides to help Jason. How? By having the high school drama department, headed by the flamboyant Mr. Kapinas (Nathan Lane), put on Jason’s play.
No matter what the obstacle, Linda goes all out to accomplish her goal. She even agrees to pay for any expenses not included in the school’s budget. Linda’s involvement with Jason goes much further than it should -- to the point of jealousy when he starts a relationship with the leading lady in his play (Lily Collins). Before opening night, Linda has alienated Jason’s dad, Jason himself, the student body, the principal, and the vice principal. She has also put her job in jeopardy. What should she do to get out of this mess? Will she take more risks or fall back into her usual comfort zone? Can there be a storybook ending to the farce her life has become?
I believe Julianne Moore (The Kids Are All Right) delivers one of her best performances as Linda Sinclair. She’s fearless in displaying this teacher’s imperfections, and yet she makes us care about Linda no matter how foolish the teacher behaves in various situations. Michael Angarano (Sky High) gets better with each film. He’s easy on the eye and very believable as a guy in his twenties who’s unsure about his future. And it’s a special treat to watch Nathan Lane (The Producers) in his “showbiz” element here. In fact, I wish he had more camera time. Greg Kinnear (The Matador) appears unsympathetic during most of the film as Jason’s concerned dad, but he succeeds in winning us over because of his changing -- and more caring -- attitude about Linda. On the other hand, Lily Collins (Mirror Mirror) comes across as too mean spirited in the play rehearsal scenes.
For me, highlights of The English Teacher include discussions concerning how Jason’s dark play must be changed to be accepted by high school administrators and scenes showing Linda trying to motivate her students about great literature. My past experience as a high school teacher made these sections hit home to me. Hats off to director Craig Zisk and screenwriters Dan and Stacy Chariton for offering viewers a fun comedy about a good-intentioned heroine who loses all perspective but deserves a happy ending anyway. After all, nobody’s perfect. Right?
(Released by Cinedigm Entertainment Group and rated “R” for language and some sexual content.)
Review also posted at ReelTalk Movie Reviews.