Teachers, a satirical, dramatic and often comic look at the life of the modern day teacher, stars Nick Nolte (The Deep) as Alex Jurel, a once idealistic high school teacher now burned out by a system. With a lawsuit filed by an illiterate student, the recipient of a passing grade and diploma, Alex is surprised to learn that the lawyer assigned to handle the case (JoBeth Williams, The Big Chill) turns out to be Alex’s former star pupil. Teachers co-stars Judd Hirsch (Ordinary People, TV’s “Taxi”), Ralph Macchio (The Karate Kid, The Outsiders), Allen Garfield (The Conversation, Beverly Hills Cop), Lee Grant (In The Heat of The Night, Valley of The Dolls), Richard Mulligan (S.O.B., TV’s “Soap”), Laura Dern (Blue Velvet, Wild) and Steven Hill (The Firm, TV’s “Law & Order”).
"One does not require a special occasion to show a little style, a little class in one's personal appearance. Besides today's my deposition."
Man do I love the inspirational teacher drama. There's something about the notion that one person can stand up to an entire system of of bureaucrats and nonbelievers and make a difference that can be very inspiring - or prove to be fodder for some fantastic unintentional comedy. Then you have Arthur Hiller's 1984 drama 'Teachers' - a movie that on one hand is trying to extremely hard to be something genuine and hard hitting like 'Lean on Me', while at the same time is trying to be something like 'Meatballs' or 'Stripes' set in an inner city public school.
Veteran high school teacher Alex Jurel (Nick Nolte) is exhausted, burned out, and no longer believes he's making a difference in the lives of the kids he teaches. He's not unique, at Kennedy High, that's how all of the teachers feel. From Principal Rubell (Judd Hirsch) all the way down to the aging ancient Mr. Stiles (Royal Dano), the unwritten policy of the school is "Don't teach the students, pass them."
The only problem with this policy is a student who couldn't even read or write his own name somehow managed to get himself a high school diploma. Now the school is being sued. Enter former Kennedy High student Lisa Hammond (JoBeth Williams) who is the lead attorney representing the student suing the school. Right away she sees the amount of decay that has encrusted her former school and the staff that stands in front of the students. The arrival of Lisa is a blessing in disguise for Alex. In his former student who may perhaps be his single greatest success as a teacher, Alex sees the opportunity to take a stand and make a difference again.
With duo trouble makers Eddie (Ralph Macchio) and Danny (Crispin Glover), Alex's new drive arrives in the nick of time. If Alex can turn these two kids into productive members of society and help them pass their classes honestly, perhaps the rest of the school can be saved as well? With school bureaucracy and the impending lawsuit coming down, Alex's job may be harder than he thinks.
What I just wrote actually makes 'Teachers' sound like an earnest drama filled with far-reaching performances destined for the Academy Awards' highlight reel - only the movie is entirely too goofy. Is 'Teachers' a comedy? Is it a drama? 'Teachers' tries to be both at the same time with mixed results. On one hand there is an early scene where the school's guidance counselor (Madeleine Sherwood) goes insane and squirts copy ink all over Royal Dano. On the other hand you have genuine tough scenes where Alex is put in the position of taking a 16 year old student (Laura Dern) to get an abortion or risk her being pulled from school and thrown out by her parents. That was actually a very powerful scene - but it's immediately undercut by a scene featuring Richard Mulligan playing an insane mental patient posing as a substitute teacher who dresses up like George Washington reenacting the crossing of the Delaware.
Had it been just a satirical farce, 'Teachers' would have been a hilarious movie that made you think. Had it been a straight drama, 'Teachers' could have been a classic message movie featuring Nick Nolte in his prime. It's just such an odd movie that I'm having a hard time recommending it or condemning it. There are truly some great laughs to be had, like when Crispin Glover mauls his teacher's hand, and there are some great dramatic beats like when an elderly teacher dies at his desk and no one notices for hours. But then there are scenes like when JoBeth Williams strips naked in the school hallways in an effort to rally Alex's waining resolve that left me completely confused as to whether or not I should be inspired or be laughing my head off. Sometimes it's best to be either a true comedy or a hard-hitting drama. I wish 'Teachers' had just picked one and stuck to it.
While not an amazing movie, 'Teachers' is hardly a terrible movie. It's just strange. The cast all around is pretty fantastic and the film marginally succeeds at stating a message. In spite of the tonal insanity of this movie, 'Teachers' is extremely entertaining. If you go in knowing that this movie is probably 70% farce and 30% drama, you may have a better chance at enjoying it fully. It's certainly worth a look and a pretty decent way to spend an hour and forty minutes.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Teachers' makes its Blu-ray debut thanks to Olive Films. Pressed on a BD25 disc and housed in a standard case, the disc opens directly to the main menu.
With many Olive Films releases you never know quite what to expect for picture quality since they don't have any control over the master they license. In the case of 'Teachers' thankfully almost everything is in pretty good shape for this 1.85:1 1080p transfer. The print is in fine order over all, the worst of the print damage in the form of nicks and flecks is at the front end during the opening credits - the last credit for Director Arthur Miller is especially rough with some serious color timing issues. Thankfully by the very next shot, everything has worked itself out. With modest film grain present, detail levels are very strong allowing you to appreciate the cracking walls, clothing, and facial features. Colors appear strong and accurate even though flesh tones can push a bit towards the pink side of thinks. For an early 80s catalogue release, this is one of Olive Films better looking releases.
Featuring an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 track, 'Teachers' does a fairly good job with its audio presentation. All around imaging is strong as this track not only has to manage dialogue and the occasional bit of music but it has to keep up with the ambient sounds of noisy students, slamming locker doors, and numerous alarm bells. Things for the most part keep to the mid ranges ensuring that the balance or levels never feel off. The mix is also strong as well since nothing feels out of place or unnatural. A surround track might have been helpful to spread out the ambient atmosphere noise during the louder moments, but over all this is a solid audio track that is free of any anomalies and should make for a pleasant viewing experience.
No supplemental materials are present.
'Teachers' is certainly an odd duck in the canon of "Inspirational Teacher" films. While it tries to be all things dramatic and farcical at the same time with mixed results, it's certainly a fun little movie. At times I was either laughing my head off or moved - so that's gotta say something about it. Would I recommend it for everyone? No. 'Teachers' is a movie for people knowing what they're getting themselves into. While I enjoyed it quite a bit, I can see a lot of people having a tough time with the tone shifts. As I usually say with most movies, give it a whirl if you're curious and discover if you're a fan. While I didn't love it to death, I'll certainly be watching 'Teachers' again soon. Definitely worth a look.