- Teacher of the Year (2014) movie review: Jason Strouse’s indie comedy makes its sociopolitical sympathies known in a clever and humorous manner.
Writer-director Jason Strouse’s Teacher of the Year manages to pull off one of the more difficult balancing acts in filmmaking: It actually is smart while still being funny.
Teacher of the Year is smart about education, both as a vocation and as an industry. Besides, the movie is funny in terms of both character and dialogue, leaning heavily on the free-agent talents of Keegan-Michael Key, half of the comedy duo, Key and Peele.
Of late, Key has been a valuable asset in a number of comedies looking for a boost, including a stand-out performance in Pitch Perfect 2, currently in theaters. In Teacher of the Year, his name is Principal Douche – though he insists on the French pronunciation. You can imagine the jokes.
Long-suffering & dedicated Matt Letscher
Also funny is lead Matt Letscher (Her) as Mitch, a long-suffering but dedicated literature instructor at Truman High, an urban Charter School with an interesting mix of students, parents, and staff – all of whom we spend a bit of time with, several of whom are funny too.
Mitch has just won Teacher of the Year and is being followed by a documentary crew which gives everyone ample opportunity to speak directly to the camera.
This is an overused device that should go the way of dialogue cards from the days of silent movies. That notwithstanding, the film advocates while managing not to become polemical for either the stuff it’s in favor of or the stuff it’s not.
Crazy teachers’ lounge
Jason Strouse plainly likes teachers and kids, in addition to being empathetic to parents. He even understands that wanting to earn a decent (or better than decent) living does not make you evil. He’s less crazy about fancy private schools that handpick kids who have everything and then gives them more.
Also, Strouse has got an ear for teen talk and for the chatter of the teachers’ lounge, which, as a former teacher of youth myself, I remember very well. It’s crazy in the teachers’ lounge. Way crazier than in the classroom, and Strouse clearly knows this well.
There’s also a bit of “ripped from the headlines” melodrama insinuated into this smart and funny little movie. It’s intended to raise the stakes and it’s not necessary.
In all, Teacher of the Year offers a good understanding of the problems vexing the American educational system. Strouse is serious about them, but he also knows that a lot of the actual people involved are ridiculous, even if their vocation isn’t.
In fact, this is the sort of movie that makes you want to call the one teacher that got you through. The one that understood that smart and funny is a perfect combination in the classroom – which is exactly what Teacher of the Year is as a movie.
Teacher of the Year (2014)
Direction & Screenplay: Jason Strouse.
Cast: Matt Letscher. Keegan-Michael Key. Sunny Mabrey. Jamie Kaler. Larry Joe Campbell. Randy Sklar. Jason Sklar. Tamlyn Tomita. Brenda Strong. Shari Belafonte.
“Teacher of the Year (2014) Movie Review” endnotes
Teacher of the Year was screened at various 2014 film festivals before getting a limited release in the United States in June 2015.
Matt Letscher Teacher of the Year movie image: Screen Media Films.
“Teacher of the Year Movie (2014): Smart Comedy” last updated in November 2021.