NBFF 2014 Reviews: ‘Teacher of the Year’ and ‘Obvious Child’

teacher of the yearSaturday Night at the 15th Annual Newport Beach Film Fest was another challenging scenario, as a number of films were showing and I had to consider how to best spend my time. Fortunately, the two movies I was able to see were both quite good. Teacher of the Year is my favorite film of the festival so far (granted I have only seen a small percentage of what has been available), as it was funny and heartfelt in the right ways. Obvious Child was fine too, given that it fits in the realm of quirky indie comedy, but has a sort of truth to it that puts it slightly ahead of typical indie fare. There continue to be plenty of exciting options though and Saturday just fit as another strong night for the fest and what I have ended up choosing.


Teacher of the Year (Movie Review)

Teacher of the Year is a film made in a faux-documentary style, focusing on the faculty of Truman High School. The main subject of this film is Mitch Carter (Matt Letscher), a good man who has just won the California Teacher of the Year award and has been given a tempting job offer that would involve relocating him and his family. As the film does surround a particular high school, plenty of time is given to bring in the other faculty members as well, which includes Keegan-Michael Key as Principal Ronald Douche (pronounced Dow-Shay). This ‘documentary’ provides a look at the various faculty members, but understandably keeps its focus on how on decision the Teacher of the Year is going to end up making, based on what his instincts tell him versus what makes the most sense in the eyes of his family and for the sake of his future.

It should be noted that Teacher of the Year is, at its core, a comedy. It is a very funny movie, with many stand-up comedians playing the roles of teachers. Larry Joe Campbell, Jamie Kaler, and Jason and Randy Sklar all step in to play different (very entertaining) members of the faculty, along with a number of other actors, who all seem to have a handle on how to play up the various eccentric qualities that are both somewhat bizarre, but also all too familiar. I found myself laughing quite a bit, often at some of the more subtle bits of humor that reflect the kind of atmosphere that one finds in a high school. The movie does not rely on big gag moments to get its point across, but it does have a handle on what works, without going too far over the top, which is what writer/director Jason Strouse (a former teacher) needs in order to make a film like this work, without feeling like too much of a parody.


Strouse also adds a whole other aspect to Teacher of the Year, which really pushed it into a greater realm for me, and that was his ability to create some dramatic and heartfelt beats for the film. While Teacher of the Year has some humorous qualities, it really does work as a character-based film that reaches points that have you really caring for the outcome of certain events. Whether or not Mitch takes the new job is an obvious big part of the story, but a small sub-plot involves how things may work out for another faculty member and the way the film balances the comedy with the serious nature of that storyline is just one of many ways that this movie was able to work so well for me.

With a strong ensemble cast, a look at a high school that features many extras as students to provide for a grounded setting amidst the nature of actors and comedians playing teachers, and some solid writing on display, Teacher of the Year really delivered for me. It uses the documentary style in an effective manner that kept the character beats consistent with the laughs and felt like a true winner for me, after making the right decision to check it out.

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Obvious Child (Movie Review)

There is a certain category that a film like Obvious Child could easily fit into, as it features a female comedian turning in a comedic/slightly dramatic performance in a small comedy about a struggling woman finding new love, while dealing with her current life situation. This does not mean the film is inherently bad. Just last year I had a lot of love for Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha, but the year before that I had a lot less love for Gerwig in Lola Versus. Basically, films like this are of a certain type, but Obvious Child fit in a good way.

The film stars Jenny Slate, writer/actress best known for her work on Saturday Night Live, along with many other TV credits. Slate plays Donna Stern, a comedian in Brooklyn who is dumped by her boyfriend, only to go on to have a one-night stand with a nice guy, Max (Jake Lacy), and later find out she is pregnant. Donna makes an executive decision on how to handle this scenario and the film follows the few weeks leading up to what she decides to ultimately do.

A lot of Obvious Child focuses on how Donna fits into her own life. She is a comedian, but she is not exactly filling up rooms and prospering for the better. She has friends that care for her and are supportive, but that only keeps her balanced, without sinking too low. And now she has Max, who seems like a very out-an-out nice guy, but not one that Donna does not know how to best talk to. The reason is quite clear, but the movie only does so much of a good job presenting them as a couple that is really meant to be together. I like Jenny Slate quite a bit and Jake Lacy fits the kind of harmless male suitor role, but the film is easily more interesting when focused around other characters.


Gaby Hoffman’s role as Nellie, Donna’s best friend and one who has been through similar life issues adds a nice stable support to her life, as does Gabe Liedman as Joey, the typical ‘gay best friend’ character, who is still very funny and only wants to help Donna. With Nellie in particular, Obvious Child finds a great way to present two women having honest conversations with each other that reflect life experience combined with natural-sounding dialogue. I also enjoyed the role of Donna’s mother, Nancy, played by Polly Draper, whose arc is familiar, but affecting. Richard Kind steps in as Donna’s father, but the movie seems to just kind of forget about him after a while.

Ultimately, Obvious Child comes down to whether or not you are entertained by Jenny Slate’s performance as Donna. She nails a number of lines and awkward humor in a way that keeps the film entertaining in my eyes, while also selling some of the more dramatic beats in a way that makes sense, as far as seeing comedians do drama. The film moves along at a decent pace and is a nice showcase for a director Gillian Robespierre, who has based this film on her own short film, of the same name. Obvious Child is nothing flashy, but it is a good little film that deserves some attention.

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Click on the poster to visit the Newport Beach Film Festival website,
and be sure to check back to Why So Blu throughout the week
for more of my coverage of the festival!

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Aaron is a writer/reviewer for WhySoBlu.com. Follow him on Twitter @AaronsPS4.
He also co-hosts a podcast,
Out Now with Aaron and Abe, available via iTunes or at HHWLOD.com.


Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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