Mockumentary ‘Chalk’ is a test of patience

Evonne Ermey

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It’s the start of the school year and students aren’t the only ones bracing themselves for back to school survival. Chalk, the independent mockumentary of first time director, Mike Akel, follows the lives of three high school teachers and an assistant principal as they navigate the halls of fictional Harrison High in a quest to enlighten students and make it through the year unscathed.

The resonating message and focus of the film are on “the teacher”, the daily annoyances and behind the scene insecurities that make their profession and their working relationships painful, comedic and sometimes rewarding. Character driven and impressively realistic for a mockumentary, the film strives for something great, but ultimately falls somewhere between subtly funny and painfully boring.

The film opens with three teachers: Mr. Lowry (Troy Schremmer), Mr. Stoope (Chris Mass) and Coach Webb (Janelle Schremmer) introducing themselves to their dull-eyed, slack-jawed students on the first day of class. At this point, the viewer is given a chance to compare and contrast their different teaching methods and make assessments regarding who will inspire learning excellence and who will suffer total meltdown at the hands of teenage antagonists.

Right away, rookie history teacher, Mr. Lowry, has yardstick suicide written all over him. The admission to his students that he’s been teaching for “approximately an hour and ten minutes” serves to confirm our suspicions of humiliation and degradation to come. The next three quarters of the film are spent grinding teeth and enduring embarrassment after embarrassment on his behalf.

His shortcomings are only amplified by the apparent ease with which Mr. Stoope, the school’s other history teacher, and Coach Webb take to the helm of their respective classrooms, though as the year waxes on we begin to see that these two have faults less obvious, but equally, if not more troublesome, than Mr. Lowry’s.

Representing the administrative branch of Harrison High, is newly appointed, assistant principal Mrs. Reddell (Shannon Haragan). The mockumentary camera follows her as she breaks up schoolyard fights and ponders the appropriate action to take against a student who has told her to “kiss his white ass.” During this early meeting she is still, somehow, optimistic about the school year ahead.

Checking in with the teachers at different intervals throughout the school year, the crew captures the evolution of some and the slow deterioration of others. We watch the rapid downward spiral of Mr. Snoope as he greases gears and bullies students in his quest for Teacher of the Year. When Coach Webb isn’t roaming the corridors for wayward students or giving unsolicited class management advice to her peers, she spends her time mooning over the anxious Mr. Lowry and contemplating why so many people think P.E. teachers are lesbians.

With a setting ripe for satire, and with a cast of quirky characters, this film should be hilarious. Unfortunately, the story becomes bogged down by its slow pace and almost painful attention to mundane detail, which somehow manages to downplay the high drama of life and distill it into subtle humor. Unfortunately, what is not subtle is just boring.

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