Trouble paying attention in class, low self-esteem, hormonal confusion, counting the days until summer vacation—and those are just the teachers in director Mike Akel’s zippy debut feature about instructors at an Anytown, USA, public high school. Drawn from Akel’s (and star Chris Mass’s) own on-the-job experiences, Chalk opens by telling us that 50 percent of teachers quit within their first three years on the job, and then proceeds to show us why in fly-on-the-wall mockumentary fashion, cutting between the classrooms of an introverted first-year history teacher (Troy Schremmer) whose lack of enthusiasm about his subject is contagious; the jovial Mr. Stroope (Mass), who spends more time thinking about the upcoming teacher-of-the-year contest than his own lesson plans (and who, in one priceless moment, kindly begs of one student: “In class, try not to know as much as me”); and a female P.E. coach (Janelle Schremmer) who worries that her job and short haircut will make people think she’s gay. Though Akel and Mass share writing credit, Chalk was actually shot in a loose, improvisational manner modeled after the films of Christopher Guest, and its best set-pieces are like devastatingly effective pin pricks at the Hollywood hot-air balloon of inspirational teacher/coach melodramas. Think of it as To Sir, with Sarcasm.

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