As the husband of a high school social studies teacher, Chalk—a mockumentary about educators that’s shot in the style of The Office—strikes me as the definition of a missed opportunity. Director Mike Akel is familiar with his milieu, as his handheld verité cinematography faithfully captures the crowded hallways, cramped teacher’s lounges, cluttered offices, and air of social stress and awkwardness that’s characteristic of most public high schools. Yet the filmmaker’s knowledge of his setting only makes his story’s pronounced shortcomings more egregious. Focusing solely on the staff, Chalk’s setup holds the promise for precise satire: newbie Mr. Lowrey (Troy Schremmer) is a tentative wimp who lets his class walk all over him, third-yearer Mr. Stroope (Chris Mass) wants to angle his buddy-buddy relationship with students into a coveted Teacher of the Year prize, and P.E. instructor Coach Webb (Janelle Schremmer) struggles not to alienate co-workers and friends—chiefly, newly promoted assistant principal Mrs. Redell (Shannon Haragan)—with her pushiness. With his characters firmly in place, however, Akel repeatedly drops the ball, his scenarios rote, torpid, and apathetic about humorously or revealingly exploiting those issues with which teachers are incessantly forced to contend: overbearing parents looking to blame the problems of their children on others, kids wracked by parental and peer pressures, the ever-shifting dynamic between professional rookies and veterans, and the struggle to maintain one’s idealistic drive amid an avalanche of administrative and student-related headaches. Scenes either go nowhere (like a spelling bee centered around teenage slang) or, upon approaching the precipice of something funny, merely go flaccid, a frustrating situation magnified by performances that are affected (Schremmer) or grating (Haragan). At least Mr. Stroope, as the film’s most blatantly cartoonish character, gets a few choice moments of ridiculousness, such as a teacher-student conference in which he chastises two kids for making him look bad by using big words and knowing too much about history. On the whole, though, if Chalk were a term paper, it’d be covered in red ink.
- Morgan Spurlock Presents
- 85 min
- Mike Akel
- Mike Akel, Chris Mass
- Troy Schremmer, Chris Mass, Janelle Schremmer, Shannon Haragan, Jeff Guerrero, Jerry Jarmon, Kaytea Brock
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