Thursday, June 21, 2007

Half Nelson: Grade A

Half Nelson (2006).
Ryan Gosling, Shareeka Epps, Anthony Mackie. Co-writer, Director: Ryan Fleck.
A young junior high school teacher (Gosling) is a drug addict who means well by the kids but can’t focus on the curriculum. In fact, it’s not believable that he could hold down that job at all, although we do see him become increasingly disturbed as the movie progresses. He strikes up a special friendship with a 13-year old student (Epps) whose brother is in prison, her single mom desperately trying to make ends meet, and drug dealer family friend (Mackie) providing financial support. The drug dealer and the teacher know each other and vie to protect the child. The drug dealer is the more sympathetic character, his occupation just a value-neutral "job," with no connection to the destruction of the teacher's life, portrayed as a lifestyle choice. That complex theme could have been developed a lot more. The friendship between teacher and student is tender and mostly unspoken, and not at all sexual, like Lost in Translation. The acting is fantastically good, especially by Epps and Gosling. The down side includes long, pointless musical interludes, and mind-numbing domestic scenes such as feeding the cat, making the bed. When we see Gosling's parental family wickedly satirized in a domestic scene, that defines his character, but there is no need to show mindless domestic chores. The audience has more imagination than that. If I see one more person brushing his or her teeth, I am going to spit. A classroom theme highlighting social intolerance and government malfeasance in American history takes up a lot of screen time for no purpose. This movie was developed from a short but they puffed too much air into it. The great characterizations and fine acting carry the day however.

No comments:

Post a Comment