Teaching Mrs. Tingle (1999)

  • Time: 96 min
  • Genre: Comedy | Thriller
  • Director: Kevin Williamson
  • Cast: Helen Mirren, Katie Holmes, Jeffrey Tambor, Marisa Coughlan


Leigh Ann is salutatorian when she needs to be valedictorian to get her scholarship to Harvard. The only class she is worse than the leader in is history, taught by Mrs. Tingle, and the teacher hates her. When an attempt to get ahead in Mrs. Tingle’s class goes awry, mayhem ensues and friendships, loyalties and trust are tested by the teacher’s intricate mind-games.

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  • Leigh Ann Warren (Katie Holmes) has always done the right thing, she’s always been the good girl — she looks after her hardworking mother who falls asleep with a cigarette still between her fingers, and she’s smart enough to be in the running for class valedictorian and to qualify for college scholarships. So she’s sacrificed fun and relationships. Gotta give something to get something, right?

    Well, what happens when there’s only a week left for Leigh Ann to nab the valedictorian spot? What happens when the only thing that stands in the way of Leigh Ann getting out of this nowhere town is a certain Mrs. Tingle (Helen Mirren)? If Tingle marks her down with an A in history, then Leigh Ann’s all set. But Mrs. Tingle isn’t your average history teacher. For one thing, she seems hellbent on making her students feel as stupid and helpless as possible. Leigh Ann’s project — a 17th century journal chronicling the life of an accused Salem witch — is met with a dismissive comment.

    Things turn worse when Leigh Ann is caught with a copy of the final exam for Tingle’s class. Worse yet, she’s caught by Tingle who relishes the scandal of the smartest girl in class getting expelled for cheating. Luke Churner (Barry Watson), the real culprit, and Jo Lynn Jordan (Marisa Coughlan), Leigh Ann’s best friend, try to reason with Tingle but she’s adamant. What begins as an attempt to right a wrong ends up with Tingle bound to the bedposts.

    Leigh Ann can’t believe that it’s come to this, but what can she do? They have to somehow convince Tingle not to report Leigh Ann, but Tingle is more than equipped to play hardball with the steel magnolia, the aspiring actress and the long-haired Romeo. “What’s the matter, Mrs. Tingle? Starting to get scared yourself?” Leigh Ann taunts. “Scared?” Tingle replies. “Things are just beginning to get fun.”

    The problem is things never get to the fun. Yes, it’s highly enjoyable watching Tingle alternately try to turn the trio on each other or seduce each individual into her confidence. However, a sophomoric tone dominates the first half of the film, quite disappointing as writer-director Kevin Williamson is attempting to merge Scream’s wittiness in the face of horror with the sophisticated emotional angst that pervades Dawson’s Creek. The second half of the film is more weighted by the emotional drama and thus makes for a more interesting film. Unfortunately, Williamson undercuts such intriguing scenes by injecting the very kind of teen glibness that Tingle so rightly despises.

    As a director, Williamson doesn’t execute anything with too much flash though there are clever camera shots: the camera peers over the bed and settles on Tingle’s predatorial stare. Williamson also does right by his female stars. Coughlan, who anchors his new series Wasteland, shows off her comic skills, most particularly in a scene where she enacts a snippet from The Exorcist. The troublingly lovely Holmes provides her characteristic unaffected warmth — she’s always believable.

    Mirren, though, is the film’s undisputed saving grace and raison d’etre. With her sibilant voice and terrifying stillness, she more than convinces you that she’s capable of anything even though she’s bedridden. Her Tingle specializes in pinpointing your peccadillos and dissecting them unmercifully before you. When she confronts Leigh Ann with the picture of the life that the girl has always feared, the venom with which Mirren delivers the lines is bruisingly palpable.

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