It’s worth remembering that gifted artists come from somewhere, that the first 18 years of their lives follow a familiar cycle of school years. In The English Teacher, a prodigiously talented playwright returns to his hometown and reconnects with his former teacher, who becomes determined to stage a school production of his latest—and incredibly violent—work while flirting with the idea of having an affair with him. This is a good premise, especially since there are a number of interesting ways for it develop: a biting satire like Election? Or enjoyably light like Hamlet 2? Unfortunately, despite some interesting stylistic choices—like a voiceover narrator who becomes inexplicably hostile—it opts for a conventional story that’s amusing enough but oh-so safe. Julianne Moore is quite good in the role, unsurprisingly, but since she could handle a much more challenging character, it’s almost unsatisfying that she doesn’t get to. Frankly, dramatic stakes are difficult to come by when the story’s antagonists are clearly right: theater full of suicides and shootings may not be the most appropriate for a high school. Ryan Vlastelica
Screens tonight, Saturday and Sunday. More info here.