Craig Zisk moves from TV to big screen with the story of a teacher played by Julianne Moore who sleeps with a former student.
Zisk has directed or produced episodes of standout TV comedies from "The Larry Sanders Show" through "Parks and Recreation." But those series boasted some of the industry's strongest writers; choosing a script by novices for his feature debut, Zisk flounders in "The English Teacher," a comedy whose cringe-worthy moments aren't the kind he might have aimed for when directing "The Office." Commercial prospects are dim despite a fairly high-profile cast and sensational thematic ingredients.
Linda Sinclair (Moore) is the strait-laced title character so immersed in romantic literature that real life can't compete. She silently assigns prospective boyfriends letter grades; none ever pass. When former student Jason (Michael Angarano) brings her a play he wrote during an unsuccessful attempt to break into Broadway, she thinks it's brilliant and convinces her school's drama coach, Carl (Nathan Lane), to mount a production. Along the way, her encouragement of Jason's talent turns to passion, and things start going very badly for Ms. Sinclair. She gets shamed out of school, loses Jason to the play's ingénue (Lily Collins) and makes a host of imprudent accusations against the boy's physician father (Greg Kinnear), only to wind up needing his help in the emergency room.
Julianne Moore has suffered plenty onscreen over the years, but this film's presentation of Linda's pain as a comic fiasco is so tone-deaf — from the pushy playfulness of Rob Simonsen's score to the "gotcha!" humiliations popping up in emotional encounters — that one can't help but pass the time wondering if this might, with the same cast but a head-to-tail replacement of the creative team, have worked as a wrenching little drama.
It would need one heck of a rewrite, of course, but no matter: The current script's feel-good resolution is so implausible that even the pic's narrator (Fiona Shaw), whose voice suggests a deep affinity for fairy tales, can't get through it without expressing disbelief.
"The English Teacher," a Cinedigm release, is rated R for language and some sexual content. Running time: 91 minutes.