A Teacher is a short film with a strong portrayal of a woman who tries to fill the voids in her life in inappropriate ways. And while it offers some light commentary on society and dynamics in sexuality, the film also feels rather thin and drawn out, offering little to answer the questions the film raises throughout. Nevertheless, at 75 minutes, even if audiences walk away having not enjoyed the film, it’s a short enough time investment that viewers won’t feel too much of a loss.
Diana Watts (Lindsay Burdge) is a young educator who teaches AP English at a Texas high school. She’s also having a secret and sexual relationship with one of her students, Eric Tull (Will Brittain). When the film begins, the relationship has already been going on for some time, and both parties seem very well adjusted to maintaining their clandestine trysts as a separate life from their school alter egos. Ultimately, however, all secrets are fragile, and it only takes a few cracks – or even the threats of cracks – to make those sharing the secret distrustful and paranoid.
This film is not a thriller. It isn’t about blackmail or domination. Ostensibly, it’s about two people who are happily involved in a relationship that society doesn’t approve of. Since Eric is going to college the next year, he’s presumably of age to consent, so there’s no statutory rape argument to muddle the story. With that in mind, the majority of the film is spent just watching the two lovers have their fun. There never seems to be any danger of Eric bragging to his friends or teachers growing suspicious, except for what audiences assume. Additionally, audiences never learn much about the main characters. Instead, viewers fill in the blanks, which isn’t entirely compelling.
Lindsay Burdge gives a natural performance and is engaging enough that audiences never grow bored of looking at her, but, on the other hand, the role doesn’t demand much. By and large, she’s just a normal person through the movie, doing mundane things. There are extended scenes where viewers simply watch her jog, but these scenes seem inserted to give the movie some length rather than as some poignant juxtaposition to more dramatic moments. Burdge does shine in her subtleties, however, conveying a wealth of emotion with a clenched jaw or a long stare. It just would have been nice if she had more substantial material to work with to imprint audiences with her characters, rather than audiences imprinting her character with extrapolations and assumptions.
For the most part, the presentation is utilitarian. There aren’t any fancy camera angles or movements, but there is elegance in the simplicity. Other scenes, especially toward the end, are extremely under-lit. One sex scene is filmed almost entirely in the dark, with only the actors’ sounds to guide audiences through their lovemaking. Since this particular scene is pivotal, it does brighten just enough to make out the actors’ shapes, but for how important the information they give is, it won’t surprise if viewers beg for the characters to turn on a light. There are other scenes that suffer from presentation issues, and it’s difficult to know where the artistic intent ends and the production limitations begin.
Relationships between teachers and students is not a foreign concept; in fact, it seems to be a growing concern. If a film is going to include this concept, but not address it, then it really needs to be a dissection of the characters. A Teacher avoids exploring either in any great detail, which will leave most viewers dissatisfied. There are a few bones thrown to audiences looking for social commentary, like the contrasting maturity between the teenage Eric and the man-children hipsters that Diana meets at a party, but that idea isn’t nurtured. In all, A Teacher feels like a film short that was stretched out to meet the length of a feature. As such, it feels thin. A strong performance by the lead and a topical story will most likely not be enough to please most audiences.