Reviewed by Creg Lovett
Chalk is a high school mockumentary shot with single camera setups in the faux cinema verite style of The Office. The comedy is never acknowledged by the characters, and every scene is punctuated by “confessionals” where the actors further both story and comedy by recounting moments of in-classroom tension, humor or embarrassing situations.
The actors bring each situation to life to a surprising degree since the story really isn’t developed to the level of their performances. The pitch for this movie must have been “High School Meets The Office” but due to a less than obvious narrative arc, the achievement rests nearer to Reno 911.
Director Mike Akel and screenwriter Chris Mass draw inspired details from their experience as Austin, Texas area high school teachers. If the protagonist’s goal is increased communication between teacher and student, then the story hits its’ plot points, but the narrative is repeatedly overpowered by the humor, and the feeling that Steve Carrel’s Michael Scott character ought to walk in with Dwight Schrute at any moment.
Many high school clichés are addressed and handled with delightfully fresh perspective. Coach Webb (Janelle Schremmer) is a short haired P.E. instructor battling rumors of lesbianism with great humor. Newly promoted Assistant Principal Reddell (Shannon Haragan) makes the schools most reviled position human with her youthful appearance and back story of a failing marriage. Mr. Lowrey (Troy Schremmer) is a first year history teacher nearly brought to tears by student hazing. The highs and lows of Lowrey’s first year of teaching present the heights of both comedy and pathos in Chalk.
The opening caption warning that “50% of teachers quit within 3 years” is embodied by co-writer Chris Mass and his portrayal of 3 year “veteran”, and hilarious careerist, Mr. Stroope. The other half of the writing team, Director (and local teacher at the Kinkaid School) Mike Akel appears at the screening for a Q&A. Don’t miss this very funny movie by a Texas filmmaker at MFAH’s Brown Auditorium.
Chalk screens Sunday, October 11 at Museum of Fine Arts Houston as part of their Texas Indie Sundays film series.
Rated PG-13 Running time: 105 minutes. Released by Virgil Films and Warrior Poets. Directed by Mike Akel; Written by Mike Akel and Chris Mass Director of photography, Steven Schaefer; Edited by Bob Perkins; Music by Chris Jagich; Produced by Mike Akel, Angie Alvarez and Graham Davidson; Troy Schremmer (Mr. Lowrey) Chris Mass (Mr. Stroope) Janelle Schremmer (Coach Webb) Shannon Haragan (Mrs. Reddell). www.mfah.org
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