For those of you who don't know; the Challenger Space Shuttle exploded during take off in January 1986. All of its crewmembers died including a High School teacher from New Hampshire. Christa McAuliffe was going to be the first civilian in space; she was a hero to anyone from her hometown in New Hampshire; her High School had organized parades and a musical number in her honor; after the accident she was buried with pomp and decor.
This movie is not about her.
This movie is about another teacher, Mr. C, from the same High School in New Hampshire, who died three days prior. Unlike Christa, Mr. C. was not a wide known hero; in fact the only people who knew him were the kids from his Special Ed class. Yet he was a personal hero to each one of them. One day a stranger with a British accent arrives and begins asking questions about Mr. C. The stranger is a journalist from New York sent over to cover the story about teacher in space called Campbell Babbitt (Steve Coogan); he also knew Mr. C. from college. Babbitt finds his friend’s ex students much more interesting than teacher in space. So he lies and tells them he is Mr. C. best friend; the children don’t trust him so they lie back. Soon the lies grow until they become rumors. And the rumors grow until they stories. And these grow until the truth becomes meaningless because the story is much more interesting and much more personal. By the end you are not sure who is telling the truth or who ahs their story straight. But you agree with everyone on what is important; it is not the truth but the object or person that inspires us because all truth is objective.
The movie contrasts the ideal hero represented by the Teacher in Space against the personal hero represented by Mr. C. It accepts that both are crucial in a healthy life. Hero’s make us push forward through inspiration. But it questions the existence of true Hero’s neither Mr. C. nor the Space Teacher were perfect or really amounted to anything. Neither does Campbell Babbitt or Angela, the fictional hero he creates. But they all inspired or helped the people around them one way or another. An opening quote describes this perfectly; Jesus was not all known hero at the moment of his death. It took writing his story down, exaggerating some parts, making up others, and lots of mouth to mouth advertising to make him a legend and later an inspiration for many.
For a movie like this to work it needs a pretty decent team to build it. This is Jonathan Glatzer’s first film as a director/writer and I am already excited to see what he comes up with next. Hopefully he continues on this path. Steve Coogan does a decent job as a confused stranger on a strange town. But the true magic lies in Olivia Thrilby and Hillary Duff as what the film calls: the next generation of American fuck ups. Tess Sullivan and Lucy Diamond (respectively) are two girls from Mr. C. class; they are part of the world’s rejects and invisible to most people in their High School. Thrilby, whom we saw in Juno and The Wackness, plays a role we are already familiar seeing her in; it is Duff who impresses the most. After seeing her in War Inc. I knew she was trying to step away from the Disney-drone persona she became famous by. There is still some Lizzie McGuire in her acting but she has matured. She plays Lucy with the right amount sadness, kindness, and insight that we fall in love with her and forgive her for trying to be with an older man. When I heard Duff was going to play Bonnie in the upcoming remake of Bonnie & Clyde, I thought hell had frozen over. After War Inc. and this film I can’t think of anyone better to play this blood-lustful criminal. A few more films with some star director’s and the exDisney-drone might become a true actress.
This movie is a must see. You probably missed it in theaters but it just came out on the iTunes movie rentals. I suggest you give it a chance. You might be touched.