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A Teacher | Review

Life Lesson 101: Fidell’s Morbid Debut Comes Close to Compelling

Hannah Fidell A Teacher PosterWhile thankfully neglecting to employ a moralizing agenda to its taboo courting subject matter, Hannah Fidell’s A Teacher is inconvenienced by an aggravating lack of character development. The sensational shock value of female teachers sleeping with their underage male students has long lost its luster after a series of films, both fictional and otherwise, have dealt explicitly with the ramifications of such relationships. Despite not having anything new to offer, Fidell manages to capture a worthwhile performance from her lead actress while the film’s slim running time does her an absolute disservice.

Diana (Lindsay Burdge) is an AP English Lit teacher in Austin, Texas. We soon discover she’s in the midst of an illicit sexual relationship with one of her underage students, Eric (Will Brittain). They flirt dangerously on school grounds and meet frequently in the evenings for passionate sex, usually at Diana’s place when her roommate Sophia (Jennifer Prediger) is gone or in the backseat of Diana’s car when they’ve no where else to go. While everyone remains relatively unsuspicious of their relationship, Diana is clearly paranoid and she seems to be as excited by the thrill of getting caught as she is by Eric’s attention.

We learn very little about her background other than that she’s estranged from her brother and ailing elderly mother. When a nude picture of a freshman female circulates the school, Diana demands that Eric delete the nude pictures she sent to him. Absconding for the weekend at Eric’s father’s ranch, the unexpected interruption of their lovemaking by a groundskeeper causes an epiphany for Diana, leading her to halt their relationship. But upon trying to retreat to a normal existence, Diana begins to quickly unravel, making more and more erratic decisions that seem bound to ruin her.

A Teacher is first and foremost a film that showcases a top notch performance from Lindsay Burdge. If only the rest of the film could match her conviction. The film’s delightfully menacing score creates a nasty unease from the first frames, and much of the proceedings are cloaked in a shadowy darkness. While we’re initially intrigued at our lack of information concerning Diana, which results in the film’s eeriest interaction when Diana is confronted by her visiting brother, this eventually works against our interests in her, as she’s left to engage in a series of sexual interactions, and finally, spiraling awkwardly out of control with predictable results. It’s clear that Diana is trying to tap into happier moments from her adolescence, as she relates one memory to Eric after sloppy birthday car sex that she used to sneak off to have sex with her high school boyfriend in the same car, apparently unbeknownst to her clueless mom. But this is one of the scant glimpses into her murky past.

When roommate Sophie brings her to a party to meet some age appropriate men, the pickings are miserably slim and it’s clear she prefers the secretive fantasy she’s created with Eric. Fidell hits us over the head with Diana’s penchant for running away from her unhappy existence, and the constant close-ups of the anemic looking Burdge running down the street for her daily exercise further reinforces her motif. While Fidell comes close to showing us a compelling character study, A Teacher feels more like watching a train speeding towards a brick wall, the kind of scenario where you can see the outcome right before your eyes, but you can’t help but want to see the damage that results from the impact.

Reviewed on August 9 at the 2013 Sundance Institute NEXT Weekend Festival.

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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