Teachers (1984)

Synopsis:

High school teacher Alex Jurel (Nick Nolte, 48 hrs) is known for his dedication and unorthodox but effective teaching methods. Jurel’s optimism is put to the test when he is asked to take sides in a lawsuit brought by a student against the school.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“The damn school wasn’t built for us, Roger. It wasn’t built for your unions, your lawyers or all your other institutions. It was built for the kids! “

Arthur Hiller is probably best known for helming the tragi-romance Love Story. I prefer to remember him as a genial satirist. Hiller had a knack for poking fun at serious issues. He targeted militarism in The Americanization of Emily, the U.S. health system in The Hospital and suburban values in The Out-of-Towners. Teachers is perhaps Hiller’s most sanguinary satire. This time around he takes on America’s public schools. Unfortunately, Hiller misses the bull’s eye — Teachers falls short of its potential.

 Teachers uses humor to expose the cracks on something serious and important to most Americans. The film has its heart in the right place, but good intentions don’t necessarily make a great movie. W. R. McKinney’s (his first and only screenplay to date) script lacks focus — it’s a little too shapeless for its own good.

The changes in tone aren’t handled well either. Silliness tends to undermine serious and highly emotional moments. However, the good is really good. I laughed a lot — horror films are supposed to scare you and comedies are meant to make you laugh. And, despite a persistent tendency to rely on exaggeration, characters feel real.

Besides, Teachers doesn’t look so wacky anymore. The film was once criticized for being too over-the-top, but thirty years later seems much less so — it’s interesting to see all the things the movie was able to predict.

For example, the film toys with the idea of teachers packing heat (schools are currently looking into allowing teachers to carry guns). There is also a subplot about a teacher having sex with his students (again, this is something that won’t shock anyone now). And one has to admire a movie that is courageous enough to spread the blame around: government bureaucracy, burnt-out teachers, apathetic parents, out-of-control students, they all share the blame for a chaotic system.

The large cast of well-known actors is fantastic! Nick Nolte is excellent — Nolte is always great at being dissatisfied. JoBeth Williams (Poltergeist) plays a lawyer. Judd Hirsch (Ordinary People) is the Vice Principal. Ralph Macchio (The Karate Kid) shines as a troubled kid. Richard Mulligan (TV’s Empty Nest) steals a few scenes as a psychiatric hospital escapee who manages to get a position as a substitute teacher!

There are some nice surprises in the smallest roles. Laura Dern (Blue Velvet) and Crispin Glover (Back to the Future) appear as students. Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption) plays the school’s lawyer and Madeleine Sherwood (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) plays the school’s secretary. Steven Hill (TV’s Mission: Impossible), Allen Garfield (The Conversation) and Royal Dano (7 Faces of Dr. Lao) play teachers. The great Lee Grant (Shampoo) is Dr. Burke, the city’s tough school superintendent.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

My mother was an elementary school teacher for almost forty years. My grandparents were teachers too. This is why I have a soft spot for educators. Teachers won’t make your “Top 10 Must-See Teacher Movies,” but even with all its flaws, this is a funny satire filled with many truths. The cast alone is a good enough reason to give it a chance. Recommended. Color, 106 minutes, Rated R.

5 responses to “Teachers (1984)

  1. My Dad was a middle school teacher, and I remember him seeing this at the time of its release, and not caring too much for it (I seem to recall him saying it was too far-fetched and/or overboard), which I guess is why I never saw it. But I wonder what he’d think about it now…he retired back in the 1990s, and already he was becoming concerned with the changes (mostly negative) that were taking place. I guess I should finally watch it so I can see how closely it resembles MY time in high school!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I graduated from high school in 1987, but the film didn’t really represent my experiences. I’m from a (very) small town and the movie revolves around an inner city school.

      Like

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