Sunday, October 27, 2013

Haven't we suffered enough?

Julianne Moore tries to convince Nathan Lane they make the script work.
The English Teacher (2013) is about a woman who mistakes a bad script for a good one.  But enough about Julianne Moore, let's talk about the character she plays in the film.

This woman reads nothing but great classical literature but somehow becomes convinced that the faux avant-garde playscript written by a former student is immortal art, the implication being that she is biased because the writer IS a former student.

It is possible that the writers of this film not only don't know any English teachers, but never had any English teachers.  Maybe they always cut class.  Most English teachers I know care for their students very much but start out with the assumption that whatever they write is going to be absolutely terrible and that the teacher must decide how and what is fixable before this writing is unleashed on an innocent public.  They do NOT begin with the premise that their former student's play is going to be a piece of genius, such that they walk around in a fog for WEEKS until they SUDDENLY realize that the play was crap all along.  I mean these people READ FOR A LIVING.  It's questionable whether the writers and producers of such drivel are literate at all.

This is also the kind of movie in which nobody notices that Julianne Moore is hot because she is wearing classes, and nobody notices that Nathan Lane is a pompous fraud because, well, actually, I have no idea why they don't notice that.  He virtually has it tattooed on his forehead.  (And why haven't Lane and his boss, played by Norbert Leo Butz realized that instead of running this crummy school, they should be co-starring in a HILARIOUS Broadway musical?)  Moreover we have to endure the movie-high-school-play-production cliche that the acting is terrible but the set, which is either beautiful or hideous, is in any event, completely professionally assembled, clearly painted by members of Local 829 of the United Scenic Artists who happen to still be attending high school.

Most insultingly, we are also subjected to the common Movie World idea that all of high school is permeated with a sweaty cloud of sex.  Now while a lot of our students may be walking around in that sort of funk, no faculty I have been a part of (and I have taught in rural, suburban AND urban settings) is anything but a bit ascetic.  Frankly, you can't survive in a school setting without a parental mindset.  Teachers call their students "my kids" partly because it's useful shorthand, but partly because there is some truth.  To a limited degree they are your kids.  You share responsibility for part of their lives.  Any teacher who does otherwise is dangerous and may even be psychologically unstable.

[UPDATE:  I've since heard an interview with the writers which implied that they had no intention of portraying real teachers, but reflecting a students-eye view of teachers.  That would have been nice if your screenplay had articulated that idea.  From what is on the screen, I can only presume that the script reflects the writers' own immature ill-formed ideas of who teachers are.  Look, kids, I never said teachers don't have illusions.  They do.  But somebody already made a GOOD film about a teacher having his illusions stripped away.  It's called ELECTION, it's adapted by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor from a very good novel by Tom Perotta and you should be required to watch it twenty times from beginning to end before you're allowed to try and write another script of any kind ever again.]

I've already spent more time, and wasted more of YOUR time on this thing than is worth it.  Much, much better films have come and gone without comment by me.  (But I'm working on catching up.  Really.  I am.)  But this is a milieu that I knew well.  That, in fact, MILLIONS of people know well and the sheer effrontery of preserving and rehearsing these destructive old cliches about schools and teachers is especially galling.

Still -- somewhere there's a movie co-starring Nathan Lane and Norbert Leo Butz waiting to be made.

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