August 03, 2008
Faith in the Funny of Truth
I just watched Chalk, a mockumentary about teaching. As you might imagine, my wife and I who have taught for a combined total of 15+ years were intrigued.
The film had potential, there is certainly room for humor in that career. And yet, Chalk fails because it doubts its own premise. Instead of having faith in the subtly hysterical moments, the film devises far-fetched scenarios and conversations to help push the humor harder. There was one moment where a teacher gets in an argument with an administrator in the faculty workroom, and when the administrator leaves, the teacher looks at a person at the copier who is opening every door and lid to find a paper jam. He finally pulls out a mangled sheet and looks at the other teacher. That was a funny moment. End scene. Jammed copiers are a spot-on accurate piece of teacher life, and so silly in the face of educational frustrations and relational complexities between faculty members. And yet, in this film, they exchanged a few words about "changing the copier codes". Which, has nothing to do with jamming papers, and deflated the funny moment.
Another example, was a well-conceived character that was pushed too far. A male teacher shown as popular with his students who feeds his ego with his ability to make them laugh, but he has no real content or structure to his teaching. A fine, and often accurate portrait, but they pushed it too hard. He went on to start a campaign for teacher of the year culminating in a debate between he and another teacher. The whole scene was so absurd that it subtracted the humor that the truth was adding so organically.
The American Office is sometimes guilty of this as well. They forget to trust in the innane nature of tedium, and make characters drive into lakes or go on survival hikes in the woods to jumpstart the comedy. Look to Ricky Gervais in the UK Office and Extras for an example of someone who has faith in truthful moments and their potential for comedy.