‘The English Teacher,’ reviewed by Marshall Fine


I often note how difficult it is to create a comedy that’s not only smart and funny but also charming and surprising. But first-time director Craig Zisk, a TV veteran, has done that with “The English Teacher,” which opens in limited release today (5/17/13).

Like a witty update on Jane Austen, the script by Dan and Stacy Charlton details the life of a single woman, Linda Sinclair. As played by Julianne Moore with deliciously mousy energy, she’s a high school English teacher who, at 45, is a dedicated spinster (though we see her various abortive – and judgmental – attempts at dating).

Linda gets her satisfaction from the small pleasures in her life: opening young minds to the joys of literature, eating health-conscious meals for one while watching “A Room With a View” on DVD.  But her life changes one night at an ATM when she pepper-sprays what she thinks is a mugger (despite the fact that she lives in cozy, tiny Kingston, Pa.).

The mugger turns out to be one of her former students, Jason (Michael Angarano), a promising writer who has come out of NYU with a finished play and no prospects for producing it. He’s ready to chuck writing altogether and go to law school. But Linda, for whom Jason’s talent is a shining moment in her teaching career, reads his play and decides she can’t let that happen.

So she shows his script to the high-school drama teacher, Carl (Nathan Lane), who falls for it as hard as she does. Or maybe it’s that he’s tired of directing “Our Town” and “The Importance of Being Earnest.” Jason’s play is dark and heavily symbolic, which disturbs the high school’s principal (Jessica Hecht) and her Number Two (Norbert Leo Butz). But Carl promises (falsely, just to keep things moving) that he will cut the play’s double-suicide ending.

This review continues on my website.

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