Wednesday, August 25, 1999

Teaching Mrs. Tingle

Posted By on Wed, Aug 25, 1999 at 12:00 AM

Whether known by its provocative original title, Killing Mrs. Tingle, or the suitably nonviolent, positivist Teaching Mrs. Tingle, the directorial debut of screenwriter (Scream) and television producer ("Dawson’s Creek") Kevin Williamson is one mammoth wasted opportunity.

The 34-year-old Williamson has successfully captured the zeitgeist with his brand of media-savvy, trivia-saturated American teens, but Teaching Mrs. Tingle lacks the creative spark of his best work. In fact, it has very little going for it beyond an interesting concept and a powerful performance by Helen Mirren as the brittle, demanding Mrs. Eve Tingle.

Most recent teen movies have focused on popularity as the high school holy grail, and demonstrate how casually cruelty becomes part of the equation. But as in The Faculty, Williamson sets teachers up as a teenagers’ real enemy. Or at least a teacher like Mrs. Tingle, a megalomaniacal authority figure who delights in her power to crush a promising student’s future.

Teaching Mrs. Tingle follows the battle of wits between this cold-hearted petty tyrant and the hardest working senior at Grandsboro High School, Leigh Ann Watson (Katie Holmes). Leigh Ann needs a good grade from Mrs. Tingle to be named class valedictorian and receive a college scholarship that will allow her to escape the limited future of their small town. But that extremely slim chance evaporates when the despised history teacher finds a purloined copy of her final exam in the honor student’s backpack.

In desperation, Leigh Ann heads to Tingle’s house with her best friend, Jo Lynn (Marisa Coughlan), a flirtatious wannabe actress, and Luke (Barry Watson), the obtuse object of their affection. Instead of reasoning with their tormentor, the hapless trio end up holding her captive. Painfully predictable mind games ensue.

What makes Teaching Mrs. Tingle seem so much like amateur hour? That it a) is poorly filmed, technically and aesthetically; b) relies too much on cheap theatrics; c) has a plot and "happy"ending that defies even movie logic; or d) shows Kevin Williamson, that master of postmodern sampling, cannibalizing himself. The answer, unfortunately, is all of the above.

Serena Donadoni writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at letters@metrotimes.com.

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