By Laurie Coker

Hunky Dory –a term used to refer to all being well, or at the very least things are fine – and the title of SXSW 2012 film Hunky Dory, starring Minnie Driver as drama teacher Vivienne, who during an unusually hot English summer, attempts to have her students practice for and put on a production of The Tempest. Since I lived in England, I know the rarity of a sweltering summer there and feel inclined to point out that hot to the British is in the 80s, unlike those of us here in Texas. As a teacher, the premise drew me to a theatre outside of the downtown area, my usual SXSW haunt, mainly because of parking issues, and I am glad I ventured out.

Driver is perfect in this. She captures the essence of a passionate teacher, who struggles with problematic students, uptight fellow teachers and naysayers. As if the heat isn’t enough to endure, Vivienne has to reel in lazy and apathetic students, deal with the angst of high school romances and tolerate snide remarks of her negative, burnt out peers. Her Tempest with the heart of Shakespeare (or whoever wrote those 37 plays) and the music offerings of David Bowie, the Beach Boys, and other pop stars of the era is different and her students vary in personalities, backgrounds, grades and attitude, but not talent. Playing on the premise that the show must go on, in spite of arguments, broken hearts and even arson, Vivienne finally takes her production to an outdoor setting and the end result is good fun and great music.

As noted, Driver is great, as is the balance of the cast. We were told at the screening that all the songs in the film are performed by the cast and no special effects or lip-syncing took place. A bit like television’s Glee and like, although far cleaner than, Hamlet 2, Hunky Dory truly shares colorful characters and a sweet little tale, and best yet, it entertained me. I recognized the film’s archetypes in the American school where I teach now and in the one in which I taught in London – they are timeless, and the period music is clearly a bonus, opening up those artists and songs to a new generation.

I actually enjoyed the journey offered by Hunky Dory. Yes, it is a bit formulaic and its characters certainly recognizable, but a fresh cast, an English twist on an American classic (the teen angst-filled high school drama), makes it worth a look. I am giving in a solid B and looking forward to it hitting theatres.


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