Diana Watts is an English teacher at Westerbrook High School in Austin, Texas. A longtime and continuing undisclosed issue between her and her mother may be only one factor in Diana looking for love in the wrong place. That place is at school, as she has just embarked on a secret affair with one of her students, Eric Tull. This relationship is the most fulfilling she's had in quite some time. A few incidents and the first real close call in being caught leads to Diana calling off the affair several months in, as she finally comes to the understanding that being caught would certainly mean the end of her teaching career and her good reputation. This close time away from Eric also gives Diana the opportunity to look at their relationship through a slightly different perspective, with the old adage of absence making the heart grow fonder kicking in. As such, Diana gets torn between doing what she knows is the right thing by staying away from Eric, or listening to her troubled heart, her ...Written by
Written by Jana Hunter, Geoffrey Graham, William Adams, Nathan Nelson and Carter Tanton
Performed by Lower Dens See more »
Serviceable, but an entirely lukewarm focus
This is a film in A Teacher that is nudging itself, trying to be set free from the restraints and the shortcomings of the finished product. The film trying to break free is a deep, involved character study on a teacher-student relationship that functions because of deep conversation and a mutual understanding between parties. The film we get is an interesting albeit mostly flat examination of an unremarkable teacher-student affair that strides along with sporadic hardships and ends in predictable calamity.
Hannah Fidell wanders into mumblecore territory here, as she directors and pens the film about Diana Watts (Lindsay Burdge), a high school English teacher, in her thirties or so, who has been flirting and hanging around with student Eric Tull (Will Brittain). The two hang out frequently - mostly in each others homes so being spotted in public isn't possible - and both enjoy each others company, personality, and intimacy. It doesn't take long, however, for Diana's paranoia to nearly get the best of her, as she tries to keep their relationship closeted, even as Eric begins to turn the other cheek to her at some points.
Immediately, this is a story that needs to be told, and this film ostensibly will humanize and maybe justify a teacher-student relationship. However, Fidell unfortunately keeps things too heavily nuanced to be insightful and too subtle to evoke much commentary or humanity. There isn't much to Diana or Eric, and their relationship seems more existent because it's a taboo and it's not normative. There's no real indicator on why they're together in the first place. We don't see why Eric has captured her eye, as he is just a typical, faceless high school teenager that comes to class everyday, does his work, and is quietly anxious sexually. There's no justification as to why Diana would want to date a student, or Eric in particular, seeing as if someone found out it could irreparably scar her reputation and put her out of a job.
The film I was hoping A Tacher would be featured extensive dialog to develop each character, dialog in the way of both of them talking about why they like each other enough to carry out a dangerous relationship under the noses of classmates and the school administration, and had deeply intimate, satisfying sex. This would be a four star film. The film we have here is one with minimal dialog in the way of characters, a shallow, limited view on why these two would want to be together, and relatively simple sex scenes captured by a grim camera that knows no color scheme other than black or very, very gray.
Having said all this, the film does in fact feature a strong lead performance by Lindsay Burdge, whose teacher character is made a sympathetic character, even with out much develop towards her. We can see that she thinks something of this relationship - whatever that may be - and she would be pained deeply if something wrong were to happen with it. If the film didn't have Burdge at the center, at least trying to provide some sort of clarity the character's motivations in this relationship, this would've been a complete misfire.
A Teacher is a serviceable, but overly-simple look at a subject that needs strong care and attention to be made human. The characters should've been more identifiable, the sex should've been more powerful and shocking considering the age gap, and the drama should've been thicker. The only thing I thought A Teacher was doing, by the end of it, was simply trying to push transgressive boundaries for the sake of doing so; not because it had something genuinely enlightening or strong to say.
Starring: Lindsay Burdge and Will Brittain. Directed by: Hannah Fidell.
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