At The Movies With Josh: Lesson

Well, the San Diego International Film Festival has done it again, with their Film Insider Series, giving us another delicious story involving writers with hurt feelings. Last month, it was the perfectly titled “You Hurt My Feelings” (currently my favorite picture of the year). A few weeks ago, we got to see “The Lesson.”

I didn’t know much about Richard E. Grant until he blew me away a few years ago with Melissa McCarthy in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” And the trailers for this movie got my wife and I really excited about seeing it.

This is the debut film from TV writer Alex MacKeith and directed by Alice Troughton. 

“Tar” went on too long with the intro of the interview with the conductor. The way it’s done here is perfect, where we meet a young author named Liam Sommers (Daryl McCormack of “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande”) and he’s being asked about a book he’s written. We then get the flashback on what inspired the story, or maybe it’s a story he “stole.” After all, we see the famous author in this, J.M. Sinclair, giving an interview where he talks about how good writers borrow, but great writers steal. (When we see that interview and what we don’t see in the trailers, it’s very powerful, and shows just what a brilliant actor Grant is). Sinclair is that famous author, and his wife Helene (Julie Delpy) has hired Liam to tutor their son Bertie (Stephen McMillan). She likes his academic credentials (he’s an Oxford graduate), but isn’t thrilled that he’s obsessed with her husband and did a thesis on him.

It’s such a great cast. Watching the first part of the movie is thrilling. You can see every character's motivations. The problem I had is how mean everyone is to Liam. The kid being tutored, might make a little sense. He’s often bullied by his dad, so perhaps he feels he can take it out on the “help.” 

Helene, perhaps just wants the tutor to know his place and is cold for that reason. She doesn’t want a fan-boy showing up bugging the author of the house. Yet when she shows her art collection to him and they have other conversations, it doesn’t seem to make sense why she’d still be rude. Especially when she sees that he’s a good tutor.

Sinclair is supposed to be an arrogant narcissist, so that makes sense. But once Liam starts helping him – either by fixing his computer or making comments on pieces he’s written – you’d think he’d lighten up, realizing he’s getting a lot of extra “use” from the tutor. There’s one scene where he asks him to read a rough draft, and the reactions seem utterly ridiculous. Surely the author could have been a bit more subtle in showing how angry he was. And when Liam is told something along the lines of, “You’re just a tutor, and a proofreader. You’re not a real writer,” how hard would it have been for Liam to respond, “You’re right. You’re the master. So, next time call a computer company for your computer needs, and stop asking me to do work for you other than work with your son to help him pass his exams, and stop quizzing me about Rachmaninoff.”

When that Rachmaninoff scene is done at the dinner table, how about some levity from the intelligent Liam. When asked what music he’d like to listen to, after being shamed for not knowing any Rachmaninoff, a sly smile with him saying, “Rachmaninoff is a cool cat, but I’m in the mood for some Parliament-Funkadelic.”

It could make Siniclair mad, and a sly smile upon the wife, seeing her arrogant husband getting a jab thrown his way (a similar scene to what I just made up was done brilliantly in “Prince of Tides” when the classical musician is making fun of the Southern character Nick Nolte plays in the film, and plays “Dixie” on the violin, and instead of being embarrassed at this dinner party, Nolte smiles and says, “That Beethoven sure had some good tunes.” But I digress). 

I think it would have been much more interesting if suggestions were given, and the author scolded him for thinking he could improve his writing…and then used those suggestions.

Another problem is how predictable it all is. I can’t go into details as to how, because it is fun for audiences to see it play out..

The estate is beautiful, and shot nicely by Anna Patarakina. The score works well; but the best thing is the cast. They’re all incredible, even if the characters should have been tweaked a bit in the writing, and a bit more subtle. 

The third act is the weakest, and it’s actually not all that believable if you really think about it. And I couldn’t help but think about movies like the “Swimming Pool” and Polanski’s “Ghost Writer” and “The Wife” – those last two movies making my Top 10 the year they were released. 

2 ½ stars out of 5.

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