Chalk

"Extraordinary"

Chalk Review


It's often considered the most underappreciated of all professional endeavors: teaching. Long hours, ambivalent students, lunatic teachers... it's all part of the job in writer/director Mike Akel's surprisingly solid debut comedy about public school pitfalls and the poor people who deal with them.

Led by a likable cast, Chalk toes the line between memorable character study and flat-out ensemble satire. Akel's balance doesn't just work -- it also elevates his first-time feature beyond sitcom expectations (see: NBC's hyper-contrived Teachers) and provides the range and variety worthy of its consistent 2006 film festival accolades.

Produced for a pittance, Chalk focuses on the lives of four teachers: an earnest but painfully unprepared newbie (Troy Schremmer); a competitive Dane Cook-style crazy yearning to win Teacher of the Year (Chris Mass); the overworked, newly named Assistant Principal (Shannon Haragan); and the spunky officious female gym instructor (Janelle Schremmer) who, within the first 15 minutes, proclaims her heterosexuality.

The small triumph achieved by Akel and company is in keeping us involved and entertained for 85 minutes with almost no storyline. Through documentary-flavored interviews and first-person confessions, the lead characters express their desires and troubles, keeping viewers well invested in subsequent scenes. Without this spoonful of humanity, Chalk would play like a cheery series of vignettes, rather than the collection of cohesive sequences that it is.

A vital contributor to that human touch is the aforementioned Troy Schremmer as techie-turned-history teacher Mr. Lowrey. He's so earnest in his efforts -- and so pure in his utter frustration -- that more than a few sighs could be heard from the women in the audience during his more sincere moments and trying times.

There's no doubt, however, that Chalk is funny, first and foremost. Cut to Mr. Stroope urging his smartest students to dial it down, confessing he doesn't understand "big words." Peek in on Coach Webb walking her PE students through embarrassing dance moves that make Jazzercize look like the Bolshoi. Over to the teachers' lounge, where a prim staff member explains that math was difficult because he chose to spell out numbers rather than write the numerals (a brilliant ad-lib by the film's AD, by the way.) There's even a fantastic spoof of the recent cinematic spelling bee craze.

In interviews, Akel has explained that post-production was periodically halted until the crew had enough funding to continue paying their editor, a spot-on strategy in this case. By keeping a consistent editing feel, Akel and his editor (please, let us know who you are) retain an invaluable comic timing with the film's interviews, narrative scenes, and off-the-cuff, fly-on-the-wall sequences. It's easy to imagine that rushing to finish the editing would have resulted in Chalk losing some of its zip.

It's easy to remember how low-budget the film is with the obvious lack of extras -- the group scenes seem sparse -- but when the participants are this engaging, who cares? The film's satisfying rhythm keeps us happily bouncing among the four main players, and that's what really matters.

Reviewed at the 2006 Independent Film Festival of Boston.



Chalk

Facts and Figures

Run time: 85 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 11th April 2007

Distributed by: Arts Alliance

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 79%
Fresh: 34 Rotten: 9

IMDB: 6.3 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Mike Akel

Producer: Mike Akel

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