Many of us may remember a teacher like Nick Cutler.
In fact, when I was a high school student in the UK, I can recall a geography teacher just like him – disorganised, unkempt, and often late for class.
What is most worrying though, is that teachers like him are still around today!
In Book Week, Alan Dukes puts in a stellar performance as Nick – the flawed, middle-aged, misanthropic teacher at Little Fields High School in Sydney’s Blue Mountains.
Nick’s life is falling apart.
A published author, his last book was a failure after it was released under a cloud of bad publicity, caused mainly by Nick’s boozy and hell-raising lifestyle.
Since the fiasco of that book, Nick has lost his confidence to the point he hates his job, his students, the school staff and his life.
Nevertheless Nick is a trier, and after putting in many years of effort writing another book, he finally has some faith restored when his new book gets the go-ahead from a new and innovative publisher.
In anticipation of the launch, Nick starts to ‘celebrate’ once again.
Aided and abetted by a young and attractive trainee teacher Sara (superbly played by Airlie Dodds) who he meets at the local bar, Nick sets off on another out-of-control, alcohol-fuelled binge.
Of course, when Nick wakes the next morning having spent the night with Sara, he is seriously hung over and feeling very sorry for himself.
They say the definition of insanity is making the same mistake over and over again, with the same results.
This pretty much sums up Nick’s life, especially when despite the desperate pleading of his agent (Rhys Muldoon) not to play up again, he continues to sabotage both himself and the launch of his book.
At the same time he continues (begrudgingly) to teach, while also conducting a ‘stop-start’ and very one-sided ‘relationship’ with long-suffering fellow teacher Lee (Susan Prior).
Unfortunately, Lee knows Nick much too well, and after finding herself pregnant, gives the philandering author an ultimatum – either accept responsibility for his baby, or that’s the end of the relationship.
Of course, Nick, who hates responsibility of any sort, asks for some time to think about it.
Nick’s decision is further complicated when Lee finds out about his affair with Sara, via (what else?) social media.
A rousing and rambunctious statement about the morals and mores of today’s society (or lack of them), Book Week leaves the audience both laughing and crying at the same time.
Fortunately though, the new film – from acclaimed writer, producer and director, Heath Davis – is not all doom and gloom, and has many funny moments.
One of these is when Nick is picked up for ‘drink driving’ on his bicycle after another boozy ‘night on the tiles’.
The policewoman who stops him is a former student of Little Fields, and revels in the chance to get her own back on Nick who always said she would amount to nothing.
Lastly, one of this film’s major strengths is its celebration of the joy of books and reading.
As social media and ‘e-books’ continue to take over the traditional book format, this is certainly something we could all do with.
The film’s ending is also worth waiting for – and is not nearly as predictable as you might think.
Book Week is showing from late November at Luna Leederville.
By Mike Peeters