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Teaching Mrs. Tingle

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Teaching Mrs. Tingle

Starring: Katie Holmes, Helen Mirren
Director: Kevin Williamson
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 96 Minutes
Release Date: August 1999
Genre: Horror

*Also starring: Marisa Coughlan, Lesley Ann Warren, Vivica Fox, Michael McKean, Liz Stauber, Jeffrey Tambor

Review by Greg King
3 stars out of 4

Kevin Williamson is one of the hottest writers in Hollywood at the moment. He reinvigorated the slasher genre with Scream, and gave us the intelligent, articulate, but typically angst-ridden teens of the popular tv soap Dawson's Creek. It seems he can do little wrong - which is probably why the brains behind Miramax optimistically allowed him to direct this screen adaptation based on the first screenplay he wrote.

Williamson's main strengths as a writer are his sense of irony and his ability to subvert genre clichés, and although many of those typical touches are in evidence here, there is also something lacking. As a director, Williamson fails to make the grade with this inauspicious debut. The pacing is uneven, and the dialogue often banal. His direction is laboured and uninspired. One feels Williamson would have been better off leaving the directorial duties to someone else.

The eponymous Mrs Tingle (Helen Mirren, from Prime Suspect, etc) is a history teacher and a humourless curmudgeon who has been a fixture at Grandsboro High for twenty years. Far from inspiring her students, she belittles their endeavours at every opportunity and ruthlessly tramples over their ambitions and aspirations. But now she is about to get her comeuppance.

Leigh Ann Watson (Katie Holmes, from Dawson's Creek and the recent Go, etc) is a top student, who has pinned her hopes on earning a scholarship to college, thus enabling her to escape this dead end town. But Mrs Tingle puts a crimp in her hopes of becoming school valedictorian by giving her a low grade for her history project. Then when Mrs Tingle catches Leigh Ann with a copy of the forthcoming exam paper in her possession, she faces expulsion and humiliation. In desperation, Leigh Ann and her two friends, Jo (Marisa Coughlan) and Luke (Barry Watson), the handsome but dumb jock, visit Mrs Tingle at home and try to explain the misunderstanding. Things quickly get out of hand, and before long they have their unforgiving teacher tied to a bed.

Even though helplessly bound, Mrs Tingle musters all the skills developed over twenty years of negotiating the blackboard jungle to unnerve her three captors and slowly turn them against each other. What begins as a promising scenario quickly degenerates into unconvincing farce. The ending itself is contrived and makes no real sense dramatically, especially given the events that preceded it.

Although she spends a good deal of time uncomfortably tied to a bed, Mirren still manages to steal the film with a polished performance. She delivers her acerbic one-liners and venomous put downs with a relish that comprehensively outshines her adolescent co-stars.

Williamson has cast '80's icon Molly Ringwald (a veteran of John Hughes early comedies like The Breakfast Club, etc) in a small role as the school assistant who briefly takes over Mrs Tingle's class and becomes something of a hero to her students with her irreverent interpretation of historical events.

Originally entitled Killing Mrs Tingle, the film underwent a name change following the last high school massacre in the States to the more inoffensive Teaching Mrs Tingle. Under any title this is still a rather tired blend of black comedy, horror and typical adolescent high school drama that will only appeal to undemanding teens.

Copyright © 2000 Greg King

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