Maybe it's because there's a devoted grade-school teacher in my family, but I'm a pushover for good movies about great educators. I'm not embarrassed to admit that The Ron Clark Story
(Sunday, Aug. 13, at 8 pm on TNT) choked me up several times on its shamelessly manipulative way toward an inspiring ending.
This fact-based drama stars Matthew Perry, naturally charming and thoroughly convincing, as young Mr. Clark, who leaves North Carolina for the challenge of teaching in Harlem. His improbable goal: to raise the all-important test scores for the lowest-ranking class in an inner-city grade school.
"Nobody wants them and I do, so what's the problem?" he argues to the skeptical principal. (Turns out he isn't considered too white, but too nice.) Thus begins the earnest but entertaining spectacle of watching an affable guy in the mean city work to win the trust and affection of his defiantly unruly students, who have been abandoned by the system and neglected by their overwhelmed parents. Setting rigid rules of conduct and respect for his classroom (Rule No. 1: We are family), unafraid to play the fool to get their attention, he urges them to "Dream big! Take risks!"
Even at its schmaltziest — when Mr. Clark composes a rap song listing all the presidents or when he succumbs to pneumonia and keeps teaching via video monitor — the movie is always engaging.
The Ron Clark Story passes the essential test of a classic feel-good TV-movie docudrama: It makes you care and it makes you cry.
Goodness — or badness — knows that the movie biz offers endless possibilities for satire. But in a new combo of half-hour comedies on the Independent Film Channel, the cynicism is more suffocating than satisfying.
The better of the two is The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman (Fridays, 11 pm/ET), starring the acerbic Laura Kightlinger as a magazine writer and would-be scriptwriter who is "waist-high in self-hate." Her misadventures are weirdly absurdist but not all that funny, though I'll be forever grateful for the cameo in which a freakish Sally Kellerman recalls her infamous '70s Lost Horizon musical.
Jackie may be minor, but it's a classic compared to The Business (Fridays, 11:30 pm/ET), the crass story of a repulsive soft-core-porn merchant who ropes in an IFC producer to make a low-budget thriller. When all else fails, as it usually does, the show cuts to shots from his bare-breasted opus "Drunk Chicks 6." What a business.