Although the wonderful Helen Mirren gives one of her best performances in Teaching Mrs. Tingle, it’s probably one of her worst films. Mirren’s splendid acting stands out here like an original Picasso in a paint-by-numbers art show. In this dark comedy/thriller, Mirren portrays every student’s nightmare, a sadistic teacher whose idea of educating pupils is to humiliate them.
Mrs. Tingle meets her match in the form of three teenagers who decide to teach her a lesson. Katie Holmes plays a student determined to graduate first in her class in order to receive the scholarship she desperately needs; newcomer Marissa Coughlan portrays her best friend, an extrovert with acting ambitions; and Barry Watson has the role of a rebellious lad both are attracted to. Mirren’s participation in this project should have inspired these young actors. Instead, the girls mumble their way through opening scenes, and Watson displays only a glimmer of big-screen charisma.
None of the teenagers evoke much sympathy, especially when they become as evil as Mrs. Tingle. Granted, the tyrannical instructor has accused an innocent student of cheating and will do anything to keep her from becoming valedictorian, so Tingle certainly deserves some kind of comeuppance. But the tactics these students adopt can’t be justified or even explained rationally.
Perhaps writer/director Kevin Williamson worked out some of his own demons with this movie. Admitting there was a Mrs. Tingle lurking in his past, Williamson explains, “She had it out for me from day one. She knew I wanted to be a writer, and she did everything she could to cripple that. Our final assignment was to write a short story and she stopped me halfway through my reading it to the class and said, ‘That’s disgusting. Give up any hopes of being a writer.’ And I believed her.”
Williamson didn’t take up writing again for ten years. However, with the success of such scripts as Scream, Scream 2 and I Know What You Did Last Summer, the prolific writer proved his own Mrs. Tingle wrong. That should be revenge enough. Why subject viewers to a mean-spirited and ridiculous film experience like Teaching Mrs. Tingle as well?
(Released by Dimension Films and rated “PG-13” for thematic content, strong language, sexuality, violence, and some teen drinking.)