At SXSW 2013, which begins tomorrow in Austin, TX, I plan on seeing 37 movies over the course 8 days. That, of course, doesn’t take into consideration food, bathroom breaks or much sleep. Thankfully, since I am a part of the master elite race you readers may know better as “press,” I have been provided plenty of opportunities to see films before the festival, be it through screeners or advanced private screenings. The first of my private screenings happened earlier this week, with the indie drama A Teacher.
Hannah Fidell’s debut feature follows Diana Watts (Lindsay Burdge), an Austin high school AP English teacher, as she struggles to balance her seemingly normal life with her secret relationship with one of her students, Eric (Will Brittain). They make googly during class, send each other sexts, and meet every night to hook-up in various places, from the back of her tiny Volvo (when they could just as easily use his much roomier Toyota Highlander), to a ranch, her house and his home. As the film progresses, Diana worries about being caught, as well as what it’ll do to her career and her life if their relationship were to be exposed. Eric, on the other hand, seems indifferent to their predicament.
Fidell made her name in the short film scene, and A Teacher reeks of it as it is basically a 77-minute short film, or more accurately a feature that only needs 20 minutes to tell its story. I can understand and appreciate a simple story, following only two or three characters (look at Hard Candy, which only has two actors), but if there’s no development, it’s like watching a couple of cardboard cutouts. A Teache falls prey to this and even at one point recalls the so-bad-it’s-good classic The Room. That film famously features the mother-in-law character Claudette proclaiming that she has breast cancer, only to never mention it again throughout the whole film, which shares more than a little in common with a scene where Diana’s brother comes to Austin, says “mom misses you,” and then is likewise never seen or heard again for the next 70 minutes.
Character should move plot, not the other way around. Every decision Diana makes seems to happen because the movie is bored with how she is currently acting. Maybe the filmmakers wanted to show how nerveracking a relationship like this could be by having her so distraught, but she has no layers besides this affair. Once again, just like cardboard cutouts.
A Teacher is a good idea. But good ideas do not always translate to good movies. A good movie needs characters with dimension, a story with with depth, and reason, all things this film lacks.
Dylan Garsee is a freelance writer/bingo enthusiast currently living in Austin, TX. He is studying sociology, and when he's not winning trivia nights at pork-themed restaurants, writing a collection of essays on the gay perspective in geek culture. An avid record collector, Dylan can mostly be seen at Waterloo Records, holding that one God Speed You! Black Emperor record he can't afford and crying. You can follow him on twitter @garseed.