Forgotten Friday Flick – “Teachers”

Feeling strangely movie academic this week leads us to a past picture selection that helps both educate and entertain…welcome to Forgotten Friday Flick!  Today we’re hitting the books and heading to class for a cinematic story about the ups, downs and student clowns that make up one ruckus high school.  It’s a dramatic yet comically caustic look at one wild inner city institution from both the scholar and pupil perspective.  Faculty fights over the copy machine (ink will fly!), student stab wounds, teachers getting bit by undergrads and hallway streaking all in the name of standing up for yourself – and the bell hasn’t even rung yet!  We learn it all from those marvelous mentors known as…Teachers!

Columbus, Ohio inner city school John F. Kennedy High is a on the verge of exploding.  There are serious acts of violence between kids and adults, a low morale amongst the ailing teachers and some students are slipping through the cracks.  Seems one such youth who already graduated can’t even read or write and as such has decided to sue the school.  It’s a case that’s affecting everyone, especially a formerly idealistic Social Studies teacher named Alex Jurel, as he and his fellow teachers realize that simply going through the scholastic motions isn’t nearly enough.

The above description frankly doesn’t do the complexity, comedy and multiple stories within Teachers even a modicum of justice.  Director Arthur Hiller, a master of finding humor even in the most somber story situations, takes his most deep dramatic step here and the result is a layered tale with sincerity and substance – all with a side of social satire.  Real issues involving everything from bullying to teen pregnancy are present and accounted for, but mixed with a pinch of playfulness too and its what gives Teachers elevation over high school flicks with no backbone.  Not that Hiller doesn’t add signature slapstick (Richard Mulligan’s wacky mental patient posing as a substitute teacher fits right in!), quirky characters (there’s some early Crispin Glover as – what else – a disturbed young youth!) and fun moments of wild abandon (JoBeth Williams nude hallway streak is legendary!), but he never uses them to belittle the more important aspects of his story.  Great drama, great comedy – this one has both.

Of course Hiller’s entire cast fits the bill, with both students and teachers alike bringing a realistic vibe to the work.  The salty Nick Nolte as the disillusioned Alex, Judd Hirsch as his former buddy turned company man and Royal Dano as militant sleepless educator Ditto all bring everyman qualities to their insecure instructors.  And on the kid side there’s equally good turns including apost Karate Kid Ralph Macchio as a troubled teen looking for guidance and a young Laura Dern as a girl who develops an unhealthy relationship with one of her mentors.  (There’s even some early and seriously high hair ridden work from a baby faced Morgan Freeman as one of the school’s scheming attorneys!)  This cast is killer.

Teachers came out in 1984 (amazing helmer Hiller passed away last year) and as such its terrific tropes may feel a tad dated for some.  (Hell, the sizzling soundtrack featuring the likes of Joe Cocker, ZZ Top and Bob Seger was even more successful than the film – and 80’s staple!)  But for those who still crave fine film work that dares to be different, there’s much to learn from Teachers.


I'm a passionate and opinionated film critic/movie journalist with over 20 years of experience in writing about film - now exclusively for WhySoBlu.com. Previous sites include nine years at Starpulse.com where I created Forgotten Friday Flick back in 2011, before that as Senior Entertainment Editor for The213.net and 213 Magazine, as well as a staff writer for JoBlo.com. My other love is doing cool events for the regular guy with my company Flicks For Fans alongside my friend, partner and Joblo.com writer James "Jimmy O" Oster. Check us out at www.Facebook.com/FlicksForFans.

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