It's a Tribeca Film Festival entry about a high school English teacher in Kingston, Pennsylvania, so you know that this is going to be so mind-numbingly fascinating that you might have to take a nap through it from the exhaustion. No, I'm kidding, this film is adequately entertaining, because, really, how dryly formal can you make a film about a high school English teacher when it's written by people who wrote a run of "The Silver Surfer"? That's not exactly a "Scarlet Letter" type of classic American literature piece, so this film is bound to be a little bit lively, and not just because it's hard to make a film featuring Nathan Lane all that dull. I'm glad to see that big ball of gay is still alive, and I'm sure glad to see that Julianne Moore's and Greg Kinnear's careers are still alive after "Movie 43", and if think that it's weird to refer to this film as a reflection of that, seeing as how this film was shot long before the release of "Movie 43" earlier this year, well, "Movie 43" was such a disaster that I would figure they would shut down any project featuring the people involved in it, no matter how low-profile it may be. Hey, maybe this really was a big Hollywood project, but once "Movie 43" came out, the studios immediately transferred ownership to Artina Films, credited the big-name director of episodes of shows like "The Big C", "Nurse Jackie", "Entourage", "The Office", etc., and destroyed as much evidence as they could that would reveal this "small-profile" project as a Hollywood production (Yeah, Alan Smithee can choke on that method of identity concealment). Shoot, forget "Movie 43", I can think of a few people who would go so far as to say that they might try to conceal the profile grade of this project because the project itself didn't come out the way they were hoping it would. Okay, maybe people aren't complaining about this film that much, but this isn't exactly as liked as your usual "low-profile" (Yeah, sure) comedy, and quite frankly, while I like this film, I can see some of what they're complaining about.
As you can probably imagine, this relatively harmless comedy hardly has any meat to its story, and I suppose I'm fine with that, seeing as this story is fun enough to make an entertaining little lick, juiciness in concept, alone, is dried to the point of aimlessness, with thin conflicts and thin characterization, made all the lazier by conventionalism. On top of being kind of meatless, this film offers hardly anything refreshing when it comes to its stories and characters, and if you feel that that comes as no surprise, well, there is some potential in this film for something of a change of pace, something that is ultimately exchanged for trope after trope, partially thanks to the film's paying only so much attention to fleshing out its characters as refreshing. The film is underdeveloped, as well as thin in conflict and formulaic in structure, and if there weren't plenty of colorful areas in characterization, as well as such heart to the performances, you would end up with some somewhat hollow-feeling character types, and it doesn't help that this film has a tendency to get its tropes from certain logically questionable comedies. I'm certainly not asking for a whole lot to buy into when it comes to something that is about as fluffy as a festival film can be, but this film is hinged in a lot of way on the selling of its premise and characters, and while this flick isn't completely out there, its characters are not consistently believable, and the buyability of the story is also questionable, to the point of distancing you about as much as a sense of distance to Craig Zisk's storytelling. This is the first feature film directed by Zisk, who, as Wikipedia will tell you, has dipped his toes in over 50 TV shows, and I'm sorry, but it can't possibly be all that easy to wash that much TV flavor off, and sure enough, there's a certain TV-esque distance to the heart of this film that still leaves behind enough perk to sustain entertainment value, but offers no real juice. There's a certain coldness throughout this film that waters down what kick there is to this fluffy story concept, and I can get past that, because this is still a pretty decent film, and one that doesn't hold too much potential to squander, though that's not to say that thinness, conventionalism, questionable story structuring and underwhelming direction don't leave this film to lose something pretty much: something all that worth remembering. Only so many of this films 93 minutes are especially memorable, and yet, the film is by no means a waste of time, at least to me, offering only so much, but also offering plenty to entertain, even in the stylistic department.
The film isn't even outstanding on a stylistic level, but it's not like it's entirely flat when it comes to its visual artistry, as there's a certain tasteful crispness to Vanja Cernjul's cinematography that perks things up about as much as Rob Simonsen's trite, but reasonably colorful score. If nothing else reinforces entertainment value, it's the film's style, which, even then, has only so much to it, but nevertheless flavors up a thin story concept that is still colorful enough to deserve some polish. It's no surprise that this comedy's fluffy story hardly has any meat to it, nor is it any surprise that many an aspect is tainted by tropes, but there is a particularly hefty amount of questionable character actions and plot beats that could make a lesser story weak, but this film offers subject matter that, while limited, is colorful, with a certain wit that is admittedly done a fair bit of justice at times in the screenwriting departments. Dan and Stacy Chariton's script isn't too much sharper than the story concept it interprets, but this is still colorful subject matter, ergo this is quite the colorful screenplay, with some effective pieces of humor for every fall-flat piece, as well as some lively pieces of characterization for every undercooked and questionable piece, all brought to life, at least to some degree, by Craig Zisk's colorful direction. Now, as I said, Zisk's storytelling is very TV-esque, having not a whole lot of kick to it, but still quite a bit of consistency in entertainment value, which is often just plain thorough, as well as backed by a certain heart that is anchored by the colorful performances. If nothing else is consistent about this film, it is a certain charisma that is found throughout a colorful cast of talents, but is particularly relatively outstanding within some of your higher-ups in the cast hierarchy, with Nathan Lane pretty much stealing the show with this predictably thoroughly charming and dead-on portrayal of the flamboyant "man" of the theatre, while Michael Angarano engagingly convinces as the uncertain artist about as much as Julianne Moore engagingly convinces as the unfulfilled romantic who finds herself coming to terms with the hard reality as fantasies begin to crumble upon her. Really, there are some layers to Moore's performance that feel like more than a film like this deserves, and while those layers are too sparsely presented to do much of anything when it comes to picking momentum up all that much, Moore's performance is just one of quite a few elements that keep the final product going as endearing, even if there's only so much that's truly worth remembering all that much.
When this course is concluded, aimless natural shortcomings, formulaic and, in some areas, questionable story structuring, and a pretty TV-esque distance to directorial storytelling leave the final product to fall short of particularly memorable, though there is enough perk to the cinematography, color to the story concept, - flavored up by highlights in writing - and charisma to the performances - particularly those of Nathan Lane, Michael Angarano and Julianne Moore - to make "The English Teacher" a pretty entertaining, if somewhat forgettably underwhelming flick.
2.5/5 - Fair