In Teacher of the Year, Matt Letscher plays the eponymous character, Mitch Carter. Mitch is humble and dedicated to his craft, yet also clearly tired and showing the desire to be somewhere else with his career. After winning California’s Teacher of the Year award, a documentary crew begins following him and the small charter school that he works for. He also gets offered a high paying position at the National Independent School Association, a job that he is hesitant to take.
The movie is filmed in mockumentary style, a genre that has become somewhat tired through its prevalence in television. In this case, nothing new is brought into the mockumentary genre. However, the talking head interviews that are employed are easily the funniest scenes in the film, as opposed to some of the awkward interactions that occur in the more natural environments like the classroom or the teacher’s lounge.
Tonally, Teacher of the Year shifts drastically between irreverent humor and serious meditations on teaching. The comedy is dominant, as the movie boasts comedy names like Keegan-Michael Key. For the most part, the comedy is fluid and entertaining. When mixed with the strange and opaque commentaries on the world of teaching in today’s society, as well as the non-comedic subplot of one teacher’s sexual harassment scandal, the fluidity of the comedy is compromised. Although the performance of Chris Conner as Brian, the alleged perpetrator of a sexual advance on one of his students, does a good job in these non-comedic scenes, there is no place for his character arc in the middle of the comedy.
Certain performances laced throughout the film keep the project afloat through its brief 80-minute runtime. Key is perfectly cast as the aptly named Principal Douche (pronounced dow-shay). Faux optimism and charm are plastered on his face in each interview, but his eyes are furious with the character’s fear of failing.
The best performances of the movie, however, come from the Sklar Brothers. Randy and Jason Sklar play the school’s college counselors. They spout pure nonsense and misinformation about what it means to make it in college. They are the epitome of unhelpful help staff. But, they have no real place in the film. The Sklar’s bounce off of each other as they are known to do, dishing assist after assist to one another so the other can lay in a smooth dunk of a punchline. Their clearly improvised lines are hysterical. Unfortunately, their characters have no story arc of their own and they don’t fit in the the main narrative at all. Instead, they are thrown in haphazardly in-between scenes where the plot does move along.
Jamie Kaler also has a hilarious performance as the robotics teacher, forever embittered by his failure to be number one. He brings great temperament and delivery to his character’s bottled up jealousy for Mitch.
When this film ends, it’s not hard to have a feeling that something is off about it. The comedy is fairly good, but it doesn’t make for a compelling narrative. The less comedic elements that are brought in to remedy this seem out of place, albeit they make for some of the more well-acted scenes in the film. The tone shifts are apparent and take away from the overall experience of the movie. Taken as a whole, Teacher of the Year doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. But, break it up into its parts, and it’s not hard to find something to enjoy.
Teacher of the Year is a decent indie film when it comes down to it. I think it could have been something much better if some of its tonal issues had been fixed, but I still find it worth the watch. It is currently on Netflix and you can find it on Amazon Instant Video here.
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Have you seen Teacher of the Year? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments!
–Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)