Around the Block
"Around the Block" is another movie about a well-to-do white teacher who goes to a not-so-well-to-do town and inspires a bunch of previously-disengaged teens by teaching them that poetry is basically just another form of rap.
It's got some idiosyncratic features too, though: Christina Ricci plays that teacher (named Dino Chalmers); it's set in Australia; and it takes place ten years ago, at that. Many an allusion is made to the "Redfern" riots (an incident that occurred after the still-basically-unsolved death of a black teen who was riding his bicycle away from police, and mysteriously ended up impaled on a fence), adding some tension to the whole scenario. But those slightly unexpected beats can't save director Sarah Spillane's debut from being anything more than another trip down a well-tread road.
The standout here is Hunter Page-Lochard. That young actor has a part in this film (he plays Liam) that's just as hackneyed as anyone else's: He's the dangerous youth who becomes truly inspired, helping him to transcend the dangers of his violent and dangerous home life. (As the film begins, his father is beginning a decades-long jail sentence for a botched casino heist.) Dino gets him involved in her attempt to put on a performance of "Hamlet" with the kids in her school. (In these movies there's always got to be one specific artwork things revolve around -- and yes, some elements of "Hamlet" are even mirrored in the plot, true to formula.) Shock of shocks, participation in the play is the push he needs to help him break out of his cycle of violence.
Yet the actor brings a soulful energy to it that breaks through all the knocked-off writing. He doesn't go for the easy trick of shouting and yelling and then looking sad about it later; rather he carries a palpable hurt through every scene, a world-weariness in his features. It may not be a great performance, but it is a deeply affecting one -- much more so than Ricci's Chalmers. Her character gets to go to some surprising places -- a trip away from her husband and into cruising through lesbian bars, for one thing -- but she does nothing of interest with those moments. Just another inspirational teacher performance being all overly winsome and sage-ish whenever possible. Her performance is like the movie. It's nothing we haven't seen before.