Lesson learned – The English Teacher review

The English Teacher

By Richard Haridy
December 4, 2013

The English Teacher is a bizarrely homogenised film that strangely advocates artistic compromise. In a perfect encapsulation of form and content, Craig Zisk‘s The English Teacher tells a story of an artist who reluctantly adds a happy ending to his play while the movie itself forces a happy ending into a story that is laced with underlying sadness.

Julianne Moore is the titular English teacher, Linda Sinclair; a dowdy spinster who has committed her life to educating children. When an old student returns to town after an unsuccessful attempt at becoming a writer in New York, Linda decides to mount his unproduced play at their school. That play, a seemingly grim “prestige” production, ruffles feathers with the school’s administration and conflict arises over the depressing suicidal ending.

The English Teacher

While most features would stand behind the artist and rail against the evil powers-that-be who want to compromise the integrity of an artistic work by jamming in an inappropriately chirpy resolution, Zisk’s flick is different. As the play is shaved of its sharp edges, the young playwright is painted as stubborn and irrational in his reluctance to the changes that inevitably make his work successfully appeal to a wider audience. Dan & Stacy Chariton’s screenplay seems to indirectly celebrate this form of narrative bastardisation as The English Teacher itself does exactly the same thing, skirting around tragic dramatic territory and ignoring some discomforting moral dilemmas before reverting to jaunty atonal comedy and a clunkily contrived finale. The English Teacher is almost a paean to selling out.

Julianne Moore adds a dramatic backbone to an embarrassingly underwritten role and Greg Kinnear is perfunctory in a part that could simply be renamed “convenient love interest.” Nathan Lane is fun as the flamboyant drama teacher, but his broad performance probably belongs in an altogether different picture. Veteran television director Zisk completely misses the mark in his feature debut showing absolutely no command of tonal control in a film that ultimately is a horrifically depressing morality tale wearing the clothes of a light comedy.


The English Teacher is available on Quickflix.

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