Hollywood meets home

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First Posted: 9/23/2013

Have you ever worked out at Franklin Street Fitness? Met friends for a cup or two at Kirby Park Coffee?

Impossible, as these places don’t exist, but they ring quite the bell, don’t they?

Such references are only a glimpse into what those attending the screening of “The English Teacher” at the F.M. Kirby Center on Sept. 28 can expect, thanks to Wilkes-Barre native Dan Chariton and his wife, Stacy, who currently reside in California.

The couple co-wrote the indie film, directed by Craig Zisk and starring Julianne Moore, Michael Angarano, and Greg Kinnear, to name a few, that takes place in Kingston, a setting Dan said was absolutely necessary to get the tone of the film right.

“It’s a film that wouldn’t have the same impact if it were set in, say, a major metro area,” he elaborated. “It’s specifically something geared toward a smaller city or smaller town. One of the main characters left his small town to follow his dream in the big city, and now this is in some ways his retreat. We wanted it to be somewhere small that was close enough to a metro area and, lo and behold, I happen to be from an area like that.”

“The English Teacher” follows Moore’s character Linda Sinclair, a 40-something high school English teacher at Kingston High School, whose need for perfection has been a mixed blessing. She’s passionate about the literature she teaches, and finds herself unable to snag a significant other who can measure up to the fictional romantic heroes she encounters through literature.

A former student, Jason Sherwood (played by Michael Angarano) comes back to the small town after not quite cutting it as a playwright in the Big Apple, and he is now being pressured by his father (Greg Kinnear) to give up his dream of being a writer and attend law school instead – something that doesn’t sit well with Sinclair.

As Sinclair decides to put on Sherwood’s angst-ridden college thesis play at the high school, a bevy of other characters filter in: Nathan Lane plays Mr. Kapinas, a high-strung drama teacher at the school; Lily Collins offers her talents as the drama departments leading ingénue; two-time Tony winner Norbert Leo Butz is vice principal; and “Hairspray” actress Nikki Blonsky appears as a teen thespian.

There are clearly some heavy Hollywood hitters involved in the film, so sitting opposite them and chatting about his hometown was definitely a shock to the system for Dan.

“It was surreal, being on set with Julianne Moore and she’s wearing her WVIA sweatshirt, and I’m talking to her about WVIA. Why would anyone think that that would happen to them at any point?” he said with a laugh. “I mean you write these things…I wrote in the script that she was wearing a WVIA sweatshirt in the one scene, but we never actually assumed that the production would go out and get a WVIA sweatshirt for her.”

Such subtle locally-driven references are sprinkled throughout the film, such homages that may be lost on a more wide-spread audience, but will definitely catch the attention of all those who call the Wyoming Valley home. Though the film has been shown in many places, including world premiere earlier this year at the Tribeca Film Festival, Dan is looking forward to bringing it home.

“It’s so much more enjoyable to watch the film with an audience, especially one with a lot of comic moments like this, to see the reaction. I’m most looking forward to this audience, to see their reactions to local references. And of course, I get to see all of my teachers, my friends from back home.”

Due to what Dan calls the reality of the production, there was no way “The English Teacher” could actually be shot in the area, but the movie was still filmed relatively close, in the New York area. Though the actual location didn’t matter, the fiction one was a sticking point for Dan, as it further supported the personality behind the film’s characters – personalities that he knows all too well, as he grew up with them in the area.

“I’m sure this is the case all over the country with any specific geographical region, but the people in northeast Pennsylvania have a certain style, an attitude, a vibe, that I know well and that I love and wanted to represent on screen in some fashion,” Dan said.

“The people are very sincere here. In the film you see Julianne Moore plays a character who’s incredibly sincere in her love of literature and the arts, and Nathan Lane plays a drama teacher who’s mildly eccentric, and very earnest in his desire to put on a fresh and new and meaningful production. Everyone has an earnestness. Maybe it has to do with being in a smaller city, I don’t know, but there’s a sincerity and earnestness that kind of underlies all behavior. And yes, sometimes that actually tends to come out as a stubbornness, but it’s still earnest. Around here, there’s a bit of attitude, but it’s all coming from a really well-intentioned sincerity. And what’s great is that people around here do have a sense of humor about it.”

There will be an informal Q&A with Dan following the film screening.

“The English Teacher” is currently available on Blu-Ray, DVD, and streamable platforms.