If Daniel Day Lewis is an actor chameleon, than surely Julianne Moore is an actress chameleon. She can be anything from a porn goddess (Boogie Nights) to a conflicted lesbian parent (The Kids Are All Right) to even Sarah Palin (Game Change, for which she won an Emmy and Golden Globe). In The English Teacher, she morphs yet again and elevates a movie that could be average to at least well above average.
Moore stars as the titular character. Seen in The English Teacher trailer, she works in a small town high school, imparting the values of fine literature to her students in the hopes that she reaches even one every few years. Her Linda Sinclair may have never written the great sweeping novel, but in her mind, she is on the cusp of living it. Yet, her life is a series of been theres and done thats.
When she mistakes a former student for a thief one night at an ATM, all that changes. After macing him profusely, she realizes who it is and to paraphrase Casablanca quotes, a beautiful friendship is born. Well… at least a complicated one.
Michael Angarano is Jason Sherwood, a twenty-something man who has returned to his small town to lick his wounds from what he perceives is a failed effort to move to New York City to become a playwright. See, he has written a play. But after rejection after rejection, he headed home to live with his father (Greg Kinnear) to prepare to go to law school and “make something of his life.”
Linda won’t have it. She believes that Jason was the most talented student she ever had, and more importantly, The English Teacher sees Jason’s arrival as the chance for her life to mean something again.
Things get really complicated when she convinces the drama teacher (the always affable Nathan Lane) to stage his play to prove to this young playwright that he has the right stuff.
Director Craig Zisk cut his teeth telling stories of women who are slightly more complicated than they appear on shows such as Weeds, United States of Tara and The Big C. He has his dream actress in Moore and the two combine to craft a modern heroine of the theatrical and literary arts, albeit one who falls for pratfalls that could derail her career and her dreams.
Supporting cast members lift their game, especially Lily Collins (Mirror, Mirror). She portrays her high school actress with dreams of stardom with an innocent panache that masks her real drive to succeed at any cost.
The screenplay by Dan Chariton and Stacy Chariton give Zisk and his cast much to work with, even if it occasionally heads down predictable roads. For example, Kinnear and Moore spar throughout, but the audience can see that romance budding a mile away. But, in a sea of explosive blockbusters that contain little plot, our The English Teacher review reports that although the film may not be as rich as one of Linda’s favorite novels, it sure is a breath of fresh air this summer season.