This review was originally published on January 22, 2013…
When teachers like Mary Kay Laterno (who bed and eventually wed her 13 year old student) and Debra LaFave (who slept with a 14 year old boy) make the news, their transgressions incite a media frenzy. It might be sexist, but when a male teacher has sex with an underage student, we tend to assume it’s because he’s a predator after, well, sex. When a female teacher does the same thing, we think, “What the hell?” Somehow, it seems like her motivation must have an additional component in addition to the sex.
In A Teacher, writer and director Hannah Fidell seeks to explore the psychological aspects of the taboo relationship that too often splash across our national headlines. She wants to prod the emotional need that compels a woman to seek sexual solace with an underage pupil. Certainly, the provocative subject lends itself to a strong character study. Unfortunately, A Teacher only glides across the surface of the woman’s drive.
Diana Watts (Lindsay Burge) leads a banal existence, essentially blending into the beige walls of her Texan high school. Mousy, quiet, and soft-spoken, she scarcely makes an impression. However, at night, she indulges in a torrid affair with Eric (Will Brittain), the rich, hunky, self-confident jock in her AP English class. Why the secrecy? Ms. Watts is Eric’s teacher.
Diana is utterly anemic—placid at school and an insipid girlfriend in private. She moons over Eric, trolling his Facebook page and sending him cutesy texts. Even her fantasies about her lover are pedestrian. She doesn’t seem too concerned about keeping a low profile, flirting between classes and sexting topless pictures. In their relationship, Diana is forever at the ready should Eric call for a romp between the sheets, yet exists in a humdrum limbo when the phone is silent. She makes vague, clingy post-coital comments about needing Eric, though the two seem to have little in common and little chemistry.
A reality check comes in the form of a near discovery. An employee of Eric’s father walks in on their weekend retreat, almost catching the couple in the act. Concerned that she might lose her job (as opposed to being arrested for statutory rape?), Diana tells Eric they need to dial it back. He’s fine with the breakup. She goes off the rails.
After a slow build up, answers seem to be around the corner. Diana’s bad decisions escalate, to the point that even Eric—who has been blasé about the whole affair—thinks that she needs to tone it down. This is Burge’s chance to shine, for surely as her character unravels we will find some illumination, some insight into the stunted emotional growth of an otherwise seemingly “normal” woman? Nope. The movie cuts off abruptly, leaving us no more answers than what already could be culled from a newspaper article.
We’re always interested in the tawdry cases of the teacher/student affairs that periodically crop up, but there is also an earnest, underlying desire to understand the “why.” Why would an intelligent woman take such a huge personal risk–for sex with a teen? The movie itself doesn’t take enough risks. It’s too reluctant to push into ugly territory in order to unearth any substantial revelations. If A Teacher delved deeper into Diana’s psyche, we might have something new to add to the conversation.