A veteran high school teacher befriends a younger art teacher, who is having an affair with one of her 15-year-old students. However, her intentions with this new "friend" also go well beyond platonic friendship.
The lives of two lovelorn spouses from separate marriages, a registered sex offender, and a disgraced ex-police officer intersect as they struggle to resist their vulnerabilities and temptations in suburban Massachusetts.
The bitter, cynical and lonely Barbara Covett is a tough and conservative teacher, near to retirement, who is loathed by her colleagues and students. In the loneliness of her apartment, she spends her spare time writing her journal, taking care of her old cat Portia and missing her special friend Jennifer Dodd. When Sheba Hart joins the high-school as the new art teacher, Barbara dedicates her attention to the newcomer, writing sharp and unpleasant comments about her behavior and clothes. When Barbara helps Sheba in a difficult situation with two students, the grateful Sheba invites her to have lunch with her family. Sheba introduces her husband and former professor Richard Hart, who is about twenty years older than she; her rebellious teenager daughter Polly; and her son Ben that has Down's Syndrome. Barbara becomes close to Sheba, but when she accidentally discovers that Sheba is having an affair with the fifteen year-old student Steven Connolly, Barbara sees the chance to ... Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
This is a story told through the proper subjective medium, film, with
such painful, cynical candor for how Barbara has spent a life
disabusing herself of any rose-tinted notion of life or people. The
price? Absolute, utter loneliness. The dynamic human images we see our
narrated by the day-by-day items in the diary she zealously keeps as a
sanctuary, and an affirmation. The movie fixes on acts of indiscretion
and disloyalty, entailing not just our scathingly wise narrator and her
new teaching colleague Sheba, but Sheba's husband, the headmaster, a
teacher infatuated with Sheba, and a 15-year-old student. Each believes
their reasons are sincere, but are all entrenched in variations of
self-deception. As Barbara says, in one of the most tellingly human
things I've ever heard in a movie, "It takes courage to recognize the
real as opposed to the convenient."
Dench and Blanchett, as Barbara and Sheba, share not only a gift for
deep behavioral detail but a skill at withholding or telegraphing charm
and beauty, as required. This may be one of the numerous reasons why
they're as compelling as they are. It's definitely part of why this is
some of their finest work. It's part of the drama's mechanism. Were
Sheba not the breed of beauty she is, a naive, impressionable, coddled
pixie, then we couldn't appreciate how intensely Barbara wants her.
It's not exactly love so much as controlling, envious fixation on
Sheba's stunning upper-class ease. And were Barbara not a teakettle of
seclusion boiling through decades of disillusionment, we couldn't
identify with how distorted the manifestation of that affection
That's the marvel of the movie: It's about the venomous influence of
loneliness, viewed through a tale of two people in love. But
unfortunately for both, not with one another. Sheba becomes smitten
with a cute but cagey student. Played with what seems like natural
hyper-confidence by Andrew Simpson, he sees an occasion in the way she
looks at him. She has no clue of how defenseless she truly is. It's not
only dishonest and unethical, she tells herself, it's totally
ludicrous, but when he cups her face and says, "You're beautiful,
Miss," she melts.
Barbara, meanwhile, fosters an obsession in her diary, relating
thoughts precariously bordering on fantasy. Barbara's seclusion within
the school is total, but Sheba is somebody who hasn't experienced her
acidity. Barbara can smother someone with good turns and not be
rejected. She helps Sheba win control of her students. "One soon learns
that teaching is crowd control. We're a branch of social services."
Sheba asks her to Sunday roast, where Barbara describes Sheba's family
with characteristically rancorous humor. Dench's delivery of these
delectably spiteful lines is an triumph in vocal meticulousness and
tone that is its own prize. Even when this apparent ice queen drops
minute words of vulnerability like "Is that why she hasn't returned my
calls?" there's an extra intensity in how strongly we can all relate to
the insecurities of her inner voice.
There are giftedly handled, extraordinarily candid scenes of rage,
humiliation and disgrace, and cruel physical and emotional clashes of
immense force. The teachers are somewhat caricatured, but that's
because they're filtered through Barbara's misanthropic viewpoint. If
it's her omniscient voice we're hearing, it's through her omniscient
eyes we're seeing what she describes, and it's the figures who allow
her access to their humanity who have profundity and delicacy in their
depictions. A wholly earnest Dench brings to Barbara that frigid
reserve that's somehow one with a despairing need for consolation and
affection. Early on, Sheba is basically an alluring figurine, watched
from afar. When our voyeuristic chronicler discovers Sheba's business
with the student, Sheba grows immense dimension.
We start to see Sheba's own manner of advantaged lonesomeness or just
tedium. "Marriage, kids, it's wonderful," she presumingly explains,
"but it doesn't give you meaning." Blanchett brilliantly uses her
character's advantages to betray her. The grim lesson she's about to
learn from Barbara seems belated, even valuable. People like Sheba,
according to Barbara, and I'm sure you'll agree, think they know
loneliness, but they know nothing of planning one's whole weekend
around a laundry errand, or being so continually untouched that the
inadvertent sweep of a stranger's hand ignites years of sexual longing.
What I adore about the film is this discerningly intricate moral
kaleidoscope weaved in completely modern domestic terms. It's going on
in your neighborhood, not just Islington. There are scandals like this
every year, and we dismissively conjecture from what little we gather.
The cunning concept here is that we're seeing it through the sieve of
Barbara, and whose transgressions transcend contemporary know-it-all
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