A Teacher: Sundance Film Festival

Unfortunately, I must give A Teacher a failing grade.

When a high school English teacher, Diana (Lindsay Burdge), has an affair with one of her students, Eric (Will Brittain), she becomes more and more obsessed with him, leading to her emotional and professional demise.

Yes, we have all heard stories in the media about such stories occurring. And when it happens, we wonder: How did it happen? Did the student initiate it? Did the teacher? Did they connect emotionally, too, aside from just physically?

These are questions that I had in A Teacher, also, yet these questions were never answered.

The bottom line was the script. At just seventy-five minutes long, writer/director Hannah Fidell certainly had the room to flesh out the story, stakes, and characters more. But, instead, the end result was a lack of emotional depth in the characters, everyone from Diana to Eric to Diana’s roommate to Diana’s brother (who appears in one scene and mentions their mother, which makes Diana angry and leave their dinner early, and we never hear about the brother or the mother again).

In many affairs, onscreen or off, the two people involved often have some kind of emotional connection that fuels the physical one, or vice-versa. In A Teacher, however, since we did not see how the affair started, we did not know what drew Diana and Eric to one another. Scene after scene, I was hoping we’d find out, we’d see them connect on an emotional level, but it never happened. Their connection was limited to a few covert smiles at school. Burdge’s acting was strong, and Brittain was mediocre at best in playing cute and cocky — I was not sure if it was his lack of acting ability or the material he was given. His sentences were sparse and often consisted of, “Hey, babe,” making him more boring than appealing.

As for stakes, Diana losing her job was the primary one, yet Diana did not seem to love it that much, anyway, so I did not know why she cared about losing it. With her students, there were just a few scenes where we saw Diana connecting with them – yes, in a friendly way, but not in a this-is-the-best-job-ever one. And her interactions with her fellow teachers were often brusque, which did not help convince us that she would miss them, either.

The overbearing, loud music did not help, either. Oftentimes, it seemed Fidell was relying more on the music cues to tell the characters’ emotions instead of staying focused on them, instead, and let their faces tell the story.

And there were a few unnecessary ‘80s-style, dream-like sequences where Diana was thinking about Eric – even though we would get it without the god-like image of him suddenly appearing, taking up the whole frame.

Diana also jogged between random scenes, which I think was supposed to move her forward, emotionally, yet the device did not work – she always seemed to run the same way, with the same vigor each time.

I wanted to like this movie, I did. It had been quite hyped at the festival (kudos to the PR reps) and had so much potential. But I would have preferred detention.