Teaching Mrs. Tingle Review
Kevin Williamson must have known he was on to a winner when he reached the 25th page of his then entitled script: Scary Movie. For producers looking for that one special script, I can’t imagine another standing out and grabbing their attention as much as this, which was later re-titled Scream. Taking on a genre that bled its last death in the eighties, Williamson knew the only way to bring it back to life was to revitalize it without losing a star persona, if you like, in the anti-hero killer who gleefully butchers teen after teen. What started out as a fantastic premise led to a successful franchise; spurned plentiful copies and its aura still breathes today, admittedly through a swollen larynx and a hoarse cough.
Williamson’s success brought about the possibility to direct his own film in the shape of Killing Mrs. Tingle, penned by his fair hand. Miramax took a big gamble – allowing an untried director, direct a screenplay that is his first supposedly straight comedy and giving him $13 million to do it. Basically, the outcome was that Miramax’s gamble proved foolish as they ended up losing $4 million when the film crashed stateside.
Re-titled Teaching Mrs. Tingle shortly after the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado; the film tells the story of aspiring writer Leigh Ann Watson (Katie Holmes). Needing to score highly on her final piece of work in order to achieve a scholarship, her hopes are dashed when her strict and unsympathetic teacher Mrs. Tingle (Helen Mirren) gives her a mark lower than her target. Feeling victimized, Leigh Ann takes matters into her own hands with the help of friends Luke (Barry Watson) and Jo Lynn (Marisa Coughlan). They pay Mrs. Tingle a visit at her home, however, things quickly get out of hand and they find they’re holding their teacher hostage.
The first major problem is Williamson’s over-indulgent, one-dimensional script that creaks at every single turn with massive plot holes and oozes high school cliché. This wants to be Heathers but in its desperation, isn’t even Dawson’s Creek. Could a star student with everything to look forward to and everything to lose hold her teacher hostage? Perhaps on a certain level it is plausible, but the script takes itself far too seriously to allow for that, leaving you cold and detached.
The acting talent is a mixed bunch of teens and old favourites. Katie Holmes is simply plain; her facial expression hardly changes throughout the film and you get the distinct feeling breaking into her teacher’s home is no different from climbing through Dawson’s window in Williamson’s high school drama. Barry Watson, as protagonist aid number one, can’t really be blamed for also being awfully plain. The badly written role feels ‘tagged’ on, as the character ambles through the proceedings offering little other than the possibility of a romantic subplot. Michael McKean could provide the possibility of some light relief but fails to do so in a small role. Marisa Coughlan provides the best performance from the ‘teens’ with her impression of Regan in The Exorcist being a very funny highlight. Helen Mirren is simply too good for the role of Mrs. Tingle, portraying her as an evil, hateful woman; displaying venomous sarcasm with every retort and carrying herself like a witch only without a broom and pointy hat.
The film is difficult to pigeonhole – is it a horror, a teen drama, a thriller or a comedy? Williamson needs some restraint, in that he obviously can’t decide himself. His comedy doesn’t have the same effect as his self-referential teens from Scream and the most funny moments appear more slapstick and improvised than scripted. Although at times funny, such physical humour feels out of place. Additionally, the horror aspects are way too over-played but would have worked had the comedy been more subliminal. It is this disjointed nature that leave the film in a far away land all on its own.
However, the odd funny moment, references to horror films of old and the usual fair share of pop-rock allow for some enjoyment. I think this film is best suited to a younger audience because anyone over the age of 18 will probably see through the shiny exterior and fall into a continually enlarging plot crevice.
The picture is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and enhanced for 16:9 television screens. The visual quality of the disc is top notch. Colours are brilliantly rendered giving the film a natural look with blacks and shadows pristinely presented. The sound is also very good, with options for both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 tracks. Both however, are largely frontal orientated with the rear channels hardly having very much to do. The DTS track probably wins because it has a feeling of being less separated between speakers and more naturally spaced.
The only extra on the disc is a theatrical trailer, which again suffers from giving mixed messages about the film’s genre. The trailer is presented full frame with a Dolby Digital 2.0 channel sound track.
The film is superbly presented on DVD with the added bonus of providing both Dolby Digital and DTS tracks. However, like the film the extras are lacking. This film came about after the success of Williamson’s penned Scream, with the studio obviously trying to cash in on his rapidly growing star status and his uncanny knack of writing fun teen characters and putting them in tough situations. However, in their rush to produce the next teen movie with-a-difference they failed to see the flaws in their master plan. The DVD front cover blurbs read: ‘An outrageous comedy filled with terrific twists!’ (Hollywood Stars) and ‘Lot’s of fun’ (Los Angeles Times), yet you’ll be hard pushed to agree with either after you’ve finished watching it.