SXSW 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. You need only know one thing to put this on your must-see movie list: beloved EGOT Rita Moreno plays a bad*** teacher in a horror-comedy. As a bonus, the film is loads of fun and is actually filled with comedy and suspense. Directed by Maureen Bharoocha and co-written by Rebecca Flynn-White and Zak White, the film allows the 90-year-old WEST SIDE STORY star to shift her pesona into Mrs. Wheeler, the demanding AP Physics teacher who thrives on intimidating her students to do better.

Connor Kalopsis plays Ben, the stressed-out over-achiever aiming for the scholarship that will get him admitted to the same college his recently deceased father attended. All he needs is to make the grade on his midterms. That plan comes to a screeching halt when Mrs. Wheeler announces she is failing the entire class due to a cheater in their midst. Ben is crushed and when he tells his best friend, Mei Turner (Ramona Young), about the unfair situation, she goes into full friend-protection mode. See Turner is not as ambitious as Ben, although she’s a brilliant computer hacker and hatches a plan to “prank” Mrs. Wheeler. She plants the rumor and “creates evidence” on social media that Mrs. Wheeler was responsible for the disappearance and possible death of one of the school’s missing students.

As you might imagine, the prank goes awry and the fallout is devastating. It becomes a viral accusation and attracts the police, causing tragic problems for the disliked teacher. Bringing just the right touch of comedy, the supporting cast includes Keith David as the Principal, Kate Flannery as the sarcastic cafeteria worker, Jonathan Kimmel (Jimmy’s brother) as the all-knowing custodian, and Meredith Salenger as Ben’s trusting mother. Each of these seasoned professionals contributes, and I found Ms. Flannery to be particularly effective.

Director Bharoocha does a really nice job blending the genres and juggling the multiple pieces. She provides a twist on the ‘skeletons in the closet’, and really let’s Ms. Moreno do her thing. If there is any complaint here, it’s that the envelope could have been pushed a bit more on the horror aspect, but that’s only a minor wish. Topping off this fun ride are the hilarious outtakes that play over the closing credits. I do wish more directors took advantage of this.

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