A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this indie film feels much more like a documentary than a typical high school comedy. Teens may find its sophisticated, character-driven humor funny -- and reflective of their actual school experience -- but younger kids probably won't be interested in the staff's trials and traumas. There's some discussion of sexual orientation, specifically with regard to P.E. teachers. The rare cursing (including "f--k") comes from the students, not the teachers. One teacher is shown smoking; others go out for drinks after work. It's worth noting that there's a lot of jerky handheld camera work, which could be difficult for those who are sensitive to the abrupt movements.
What's the story?
Fascinated by the statistic that 50% of new teachers leave the field within the first three years, teachers Mike Akel and co-writer Chris Maas created this "mockumentary" about why it happens. It's the first day of school at Harrison High. Teachers and other staffers are idealistic, purposeful, and enthusiastic (despite a few cases of nerves and some of outright terror). They put on bright, shiny faces to meet the kids. Then, for 84 minutes, these relatively virtuous humanitarians are forced to face enough school politics, personality conflicts, and student lethargy -- not to mention their own shortcomings -- to send them screaming into the faculty lounge.
Is it any good?
Chalk is earnest and well-intentioned. It has a relevant story, wonderful performances, and hilarious moments that everyone who's ever been a student or a teacher will identify with. Its relatively sophisticated, character-driven humor is derived from good intentions, inadequate preparation, and limitless egos. For viewers who like their high school comedies based on real people in authentic situations, Chalk is a welcome back-to-school treat.
That said, it's not entirely successful -- in their efforts to "keep it real," the filmmakers allow the movie's energy to sag and the pace to slow so much that it occasionally becomes lackluster and lifeless. Though filmed in the mockumentary style used so effectively in other films and even TV shows, Chalk plays much more like an actual documentary than a spoof. But one sequence -- described as a "spelling hornet" -- is as hilarious as any seen in the obvious send-ups.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Harrison High is similar to and different from their own experience. How realistic are the teachers and the students? How can you tell that this is a fake documentary, rather than a real one? What tools did the filmmakers use to make this feel like a true story? What do you think a real documentary about an average high school would be like? Does the movie successfully explain why so many teachers leave the classroom after such a short time? If you were Mr. Lowery, would you come back, and, if so, what would you do differently?
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