TEACHING MRS. TINGLE
The story of how Kevin Williamson came up with Teaching Mrs. Tingle in writing school as a response to a teacher he felt stifled his creativity has already become part of a legend. As with The Faculty, Teacing Mrs. Tingle contains a subversive anti-authoritarian streak in pitting a cross-section of disaffected teens against authoritarian teachers The Faculty after all had the gloriously subversive theme of setting teens in armed combat against the titular high-school teaching faculty wherein the class dealers homebake became the weapon that saved Earth from alien invaders. Although Teaching Mrs. Tingle shows that given his own creative control that maybe behind his subversive streak and wry postmodern playfulness, Kevin Williamson is just an old-fashioned Mom and Pop sentimentalist Katie Holmess A-students desire for success is shown without much in the way of irony and elsewhere Williamson trades in American heartland images like Holmes being moved by the image of Jeffrey Tambors wife reading her Bible or the American flag symbolically being taken down as Helen Mirren makes her escape.
Several times throughout Kevin Williamson has a running gag about the meaning of the word irony. Such is apt for there seems no better word to describe Kevin Williamsons style of writing than ironic his is a body of films that almost entirely make their play out of ironic juxtapositions of expected screen cliches and reality. Here though Williamson has toned down the persistent genre in-referencing that has littered his scripts to date although there is a running gag throughout that keeps comparing Helen Mirren tied and bound to her bed to Linda Blair in The Exorcist (1973). (Williamson later returned to an even more elaborate deconstruction of The Exorcist in his tv series Glory Days).
Disappointingly, Kevin Williamson proves to be far less effective as a director than he has as a screenwriter. All the other directors to have taken up Williamsons work Wes Craven, Jim Gillespie, Robert Rodriguez have demonstrated far greater elan than Williamson himself does here. Where Teaching Mrs. Tingle should have generated a sense of black comedy, Williamson allows it to degenerate into all but farce. One scene with the teens trying to get Jeffrey Tambor drunk in order to get incriminating photos is clumsily handled. Where the film does work are the strengths that Kevin Williamson has demonstrated elsewhere the writing. The film comes with sharp one-liners You should stop doing haircare products up your nose, Katie Holmes notes of Marisa Coughlans strange behaviour. There are a couple of history lessons an enacted take on the Kennedy era from the point-of-view of Marilyn Monroe and an interpretation of the Napoleonic Wars in terms of frustrated sexual desire that are hilarious. However, what makes the suspense of the film work, as opposed to Kevin Williamsons direction, is the strength of the three teen characters. All are well etched and the film comes into its own when we see Mrs Tingle, from her confinement, cleverly playing each teens weakness against the other.
Among the cast, Katie Holmes (who was in fact discovered on Williamsons Dawsons Creek) is insipid and bland one fails to see what her popularity is all about. Helen Mirren brings a touch of class to the project. She is slumming it and does not exactly stretch herself in the role but wields well the acid-dripping sarcasm that only the British seem to manage with aplomb. However, it is the enormously talented Marisa Coughlan who manages to steal the show out from under everybody. Her single-handed enactment of The Exorcist is an hysterical set-piece that alone makes the film worth seeing.
(Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Marisa Coughlan) at this sites Best of 1999 Awards).