AS A THEATER CRITIC, I've seen more re-contextualized Shakespeare than one human ever should—so a movie about an embattled drama teacher trying to put on a rock-opera version of The Tempest doesn't exactly fill me with enthusiasm. And nothing about Hunky Dory ever caused me to question my initial skepticism—it's a boilerplate story of One Teacher Who Makes a Difference, with a dash of '70s pop thrown into the mix.
Minnie Driver plays Vivienne, a brand-new drama teacher at a high school in Wales who's all fired up about the possibility of art to expand her students' horizons. And so she organizes a quirky musical that inter-cuts Shakespeare's soliloquies with David Bowie songs, giving charming, floppy-haired teenagers the chance to stare dreamily into the middle distance while singing an a cappella rendition of "Life on Mars?" In the process, Vivienne butts heads with a bitchy social studies teacher and a loutish PE teacher, and of course her students have issues of their own, ranging from family trouble to gay crushes.
There's nothing really wrong with Hunky Dory—it's just deeply, blandly unoriginal. All the tropes of a teen movie are here, but there's nothing to enliven them—no spark of insight or wit that distinguishes this movie about misunderstood teenagers from all the other movies about misunderstood teenagers. Except, I suppose, for those pop songs, which do pack a nostalgic wallop. If Billy Elliot is your favorite movie, Hunky Dory is probably just the film you've been looking for.