Title:  Half Nelson

Release Date:  2006

Nationality and Language: USA, English

Running time: 106 min

MPAA Rating: R

Distributor and Production Company: ThinkFilm, Hunting Lane

Director; Writer: Ryan Fleck, Anna Boden


Cast:  Ryan Gosling, Shareeka Epps

Technical: Flat 1.85 to 1

Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site:  teachers


This film starts out with a two-piece visual oxymoron. 26 year old Canadian actor and A-lister Ryan Gosling lies on a bed, face down, in skivvies, in a grungy-as-can-be apartment, as the camera focuses on his super shaggy gams. In the next shot, we see him smoking a cigarette. That’s one contradiction. We’ll see a lot of him snorting cocaine later. He is always smoking. It’s depressing. We get to see the hairy legs one more time, and somehow he survives. As a middle school history teacher, he is always one step away from the principal, who checks his classroom and warns him that he needs to get on to civil rights next week, and who tells him to remove his chewing gum. A teacher has to set an example for the kids, and chewing his cud doesn’t cut it. Eventually he has a coke-related nosebleed (epistaxis) in class and has to leave for the teacher’s lounge and leave the kids unsupervised. (Actually, you can get a nosebleed from overuse of nasal decongestants like neo synephrine.) Soon the principal calls him in and tells him to close the door. We don’t see the confrontation. He has a big problem. We don’t need to see him get suspended or fired, but in a subsequent scene a substitute teacher, Mr. Light (with a smiley face over the “I”) takes over and asks the kids what they have been learning. There are no lesson plans. That’s the first thing that they tell substitutes: follow the lesson plans, to the letter.


Ryan Gosling is always so likeable on screen and often plays a charismatic but horribly flawed character. (Murder by Numbers, The United States of Leland). Here he is great in the classroom with the kids, and really connects with them. They will obviously learn from him. He has a certain passion for left wing causes, a talks a lot about “change” and dialectics. I can imagine his giving a video lecture on the Roman Catholic Church and simony. (I saw a good history teacher do that when I was a sub.) On the surface, he seems to live the life of a male teacher, as he also coaches basketball, but we see him crack and throw a ball at another teacher. That is a fact about teaching. Teachers have to live the life. They are role models. They have to be to maintain discipline. That is getting harder in this Internet and Google age where lives are becoming so public.


At home, he keeps sinking. His affectionate pal cat dies of an accidental cocaine exposure. He has tried rehab and it didn’t work. And he starts driving 13 year old student Drey (Shareeka Epps) home and invites her to his apartment. Nothing “inappropriate” happens, except that she will eventually visit him in a motel room and see his drug use.


It’s easy to image a different kid of film. The movie could have shown the principal’s firing him (actually, as John Stossel points out on ABC “20/20,” it is very difficult to fire a teacher in New York City, and there is a “farm” for the suspended ones where they are on full pay and have nothing to do). It could have shown the police and courts getting involved. That would have made a predictable film. Instead, for originality, we have a choppy script that starts and stops and lingers, but shows real slices of a very troubled life.  


Chalk (2007, Virgil / Hart Sharp / Morgan Spurlock Presents, dir. Mike Akel, wr with Chris Maas, 85 min, PG-13, digital video) is a comedy docudrama about four teachers (actually one is an assistant principal) in Harrison High School in Austin, TX. With Troy and Janelle Schremmer).


Link to blogger discussion.







Related reviews:. Murder By Numbers, The United States of Leland, The Notebook


Return to movies (reviews)

Return to home page


Email me at