A kinder, gentler mockumentary, this black and white film’s greatest strength and weakness is its unwillingness to be too tough on the high school teachers and administrators it portrays. The writers, director, and stars of this movie are all former teachers and have an unabashed fondness for their colleagues. The movie’s opening quote tells us that 50 percent of teachers quit in the first three years. This puts us on their side. No matter how foolish the behavior of these characters, we never lose sight of the honor of their aspirations, the difference they can make in the lives of students, and the greater foolishness of the system’s demands and expectations.
Parents should know that though this film is set in a high school, the story is centered on the teachers and deals with some mature themes. A PE teacher says that other people think she is gay, though she is not. Another teacher complains about how long it has been since she and her husband had sex. Adult characters drink and some get tipsy.
Families who see this movie should talk about the stresses and conflicts faced by teachers, and about the teachers who inspired them the most.
Families who appreciate this film will also appreciate other movies about the absurdities of high school life like Up the Down Staircase and High School High (which parodies as well as perpetuates the genre). And they will appreciate the mockumentaries made by Christopher Guest and his repertory company, which inspired the people behind this film.
The film’s main characters are a nervous but idealistic new teacher (Troy Schremmer as Mr. Lowrey), an enthusiastic but lonely PE teacher (Schremmer’s real-life wife, Janelle Schremmer as Coach Webb), a music teacher-turned administrator (Shannon Haragan as Mrs. Reddell), and an established young teacher whose goal is to be awarded “Teacher of the Year” (co-writer and producer Chris Mass as Mr. Stroope). With a documentary structure, the film counts down the days to vacation and allows its characters to deliver soliloquies about their hopes and disappointments to cameras in their homes.
The people behind the film know teaching better than they know movie-making, and that shows in its shifts of tone from slightly heightened reality to exaggerated farce. Its episodic, improvisational structure gives it a documentary (or even faux documentary) feel, but it also means odd juxtapositions between scenes that work fairly well and some that go nowhere. But the movie succeeds in getting the audience on the side of its characters. They may be and they are certainly self-absorbed, but they are earnest and well-meaning. It is also a rare movie set in a high school that pays almost no attention to the students. There are no big breakthrough moments where a student is suddenly engaged by a subject or transformed because someone believes in him. This doesn’t say much for them as teachers, but as film-makers, it is a refreshing perspective, and the natural sincerity of the performances earns them some extra credit.