The film stars Helen Mirren, Katie Holmes, Marisa Coughlan, Barry Watson, and Jeffrey Tambor and was released on August 20, 1999. It was originally titled Killing Mrs. Tingle, but was delayed and re-titled due to the uproar over teen violence in films after the Columbine High School massacre. The film received mostly negative reviews from critics and was a box office bomb. It has since gained a small cult following.
Leigh Ann Watson is a high school student living in the small sleepy town of Grandsboro in Northern California with her single mother Faye who works as a waitress. Leigh Ann's aim is to achieve top grades to become valedictorian and leave the rather dead end town. However, her grade in history class is threatened by her sadistic and thoroughly vindictive teacher, Mrs. Eve Tingle. Mrs. Tingle has a special dislike for Leigh Ann and down-grades Leigh Ann's well-designed, though slightly misfired, project.
Fellow student Luke Churner takes the final exam papers from Tingle and makes a copy. He offers Leigh Ann, whom he has feelings for, the papers but she insistently refuses to cheat. Ultimately, Luke stashes the papers in Leigh Ann's backpack without her consent. Out of nowhere Tingle happens by, discovers the papers in Leigh Ann's backpack, and threatens to expel her for cheating. Mrs. Tingle heads to Principal Potter's office, however he has left for the day and decides to tell him tomorrow morning. This gives Leigh Ann, her best friend, Jo Lynn Jordan, an aspiring actress who has feelings for Luke, and Luke time to think of a plan to stop Mrs. Tingle.
Leigh Ann, Jo Lynn, and Luke head to Mrs. Tingle's house that night and try to convince Mrs. Tingle that Leigh Ann is innocent. Mrs. Tingle, however, refuses to listen and hints that she believes them but doesn't care. Luke picks up a loaded crossbow and aims it at Mrs. Tingle, threatening her. A physical struggle ensues, the crossbow goes off, and in the ensuing mêlée Mrs. Tingle is accidentally knocked unconscious. The students panic and tie Mrs. Tingle to her bed. Leigh Ann returns to her house and promises to return in the morning, while Luke and Jo Lynn are left to watch Mrs. Tingle in the bedroom. While under Jo Lynn's watch, Mrs. Tingle regains consciousness and playing on her guilt, Mrs. Tingle feigns dizziness and understanding for the prank and asks to be untied. Jo Lynn proceeds to untie her from the bed, and Mrs. Tingle immediately attacks Jo Lynn and tries to throttle her on the bed. Luke, with loaded crossbow aimed at Mrs. Tingle, convinces her otherwise, and she is retied to her bed, this time with a gag.
The trio gathers together at Mrs. Tingle's house the next morning. Jo Lynn then calls the school and impersonates Mrs. Tingle calling in sick in order to buy the trio some time, but all are unsure of what they should do next. Leigh Ann and Luke go to school, leaving Jo Lynn to watch Mrs. Tingle. When they return home, the trio devise a plan to blackmail Mrs. Tingle by using fake photos of Luke and Mrs. Tingle in bed together, suggesting they were having an affair. Meanwhile, Mrs. Tingle plays mind-games with Jo Lynn, planting seeds of jealousy about Leigh Ann's supposed relationship with Luke. Later that day, the plan goes awry when the school's gym teacher, Coach Richard Wenchell, called 'Spanky' by Mrs. Tingle, arrives and is revealed to be having an affair with her. Jo Lynn, again, impersonates Mrs. Tingle and blindfolds Coach Wenchell to hide her identity. When Wenchell passes out after a high intake of alcohol, Leigh Ann, Luke and Jo Lynn decide to blackmail Mrs. Tingle by producing photographic evidence of her love affair with Wenchell.
While Leigh Ann and Luke leave to have the pictures printed and take an unconscious Coach Wenchell home undetected, Mrs. Tingle manipulates Jo Lynn into turning against Leigh Ann by revealing to her that Leigh Ann and Luke spent the night together at a party. Distraught, Jo Lynn leaves. Leigh Ann and Luke arrive back and cannot find Jo Lynn, thinking Mrs. Tingle had something to do with it. Mrs. Tingle eventually reveals that she hates Leigh Ann because Leigh Ann has, unlike herself, the potential to leave their small town and experience life. Mrs. Tingle's romantic self-revelations are incredible, furthering her captors' disdain of her. Later, she also opines that Leigh Ann does not have the guts to do anything risky that might get her in trouble; in response, an angry and infuriated Leigh Ann kisses Luke and has sex downstairs with him on Mrs. Tingle's couch. Luke and Leigh Ann find Mrs. Tingle's history grade book, and with little persuasion from Luke, decides to cheat by changing Mrs. Tingle's grade book. Leigh Ann marks down her rival, Trudie Tucker's top A grade down to a B, and upgrades her own C to an A+.
The next day at school, Jo Lynn ignores Leigh Ann, still hurt over her betrayal. A regretful Leigh Ann tries to make amends with Jo Lynn, but an admission that she'd had sex with Luke further infuriates Jo Lynn and she accuses Leigh Ann of being just like Mrs. Tingle.
Mrs. Tingle escapes from her bonds, ties Luke down in her place and, using the loaded crossbow, once again threatens Leigh Ann. Jo Lynn also appears to be on Mrs. Tingle's side now saying she'll help blackmail and ruin Leigh Ann, but turns out to be only faking it so she could help her friends. After a violent fight, Mrs. Tingle appears to tumble to her death down the staircase, but quickly recovers, scrambles to her feet, and picks up a crossbow. She fires it wildly, trying to hit Leigh Ann. Trudie Tucker walks through the door, gets hit in the chest by the bolt, and collapses. Leigh Ann checks her pulse and says she's dead. Principal Potter arrives to check up on Mrs. Tingle and is horrified by the scene. Guilt-ridden, Tingle confesses that she shot Trudie while trying to kill Leigh Ann and wanted to make her fail. However, Trudie was protected by the thick textbook she was holding to her chest and is completely unharmed, which Leigh Ann already knew. Tingle is fired by Potter, who then calls the police. The film ends with Leigh Ann being named as valedictorian at graduation.Helen Mirren as Mrs. Eve Tingle
Katie Holmes as Leigh Ann Watson
Jeffrey Tambor as Coach Richard 'Spanky' Wenchell
Barry Watson as Luke Churner
Marisa Coughlan as Jo Lynn Jordan
Liz Stauber as Trudie Tucker
Michael McKean as Principal Potter
Lesley Ann Warren as Mrs Faye Watson
Molly Ringwald as Miss Banks
Vivica A. Fox as Miss Gold
John Patrick White as Brian Berry
Robert Gant as Professor (scenes deleted)
Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Sigourney Weaver and Sally Field were considered for the role of Mrs. Eve Tingle, the antagonist. Gillian Anderson was offered the role of Mrs. Tingle, but turned it down. Alicia Silverstone was considered for the role of Leigh Ann Watson, the protagonist.
Kevin Williamson chose Helen Mirren, in part because she seemed so unlikely for the role. "This is not the sort of film that I'm usually associated with so I was thrilled that Kevin would think of me for this role.", said Mirren. Impressed with Williamson's mix of comedy, thrills and psychological savvy in the script, Mirren saw the story of Mrs. Tingle as being about the most frightening and very real adolescent rite of passage: facing the future. "For me "Teaching Mrs. Tingle" addresses teenagers' insecurities, ambitions and fears about the future," she explains. "Remembering back to the ages of Leigh Ann, Luke and Jo Lynn, fear of the future is the most powerful thing driving you on. You don't know what's going to happen to you and it's terrifying. I think adults forget how scary that is. But Mrs. Tingle hasn't forgotten how scary it is; on the contrary, she uses that fear to her own slick advantage when the stakes become higher, manipulating Leigh Ann, Luke and Jo Lynn with savage aplomb." "I think Helen Mirren is one of the greatest living actresses that we have," says Williamson, "and the fact that she wanted to play this role was amazing. She elevated Mrs. Tingle to a new level."
Filming began on May 10, 1998 and ended on July 14, 1998, lasting 65 days. The film was entirely filmed in California. Outside school footage was filmed at El Segundo High School, El Segundo. Other scenes were filmed at Culver Studios, Culver City. Other locations include Pasadena, Culver City High School, John Burroughs Middle School and Los Angeles.
The film was originally to be called "Killing Mrs. Tingle" and receive an earlier release date. However, due to the Columbine High School massacre that occurred on April 20, 1999, there was a huge uproar over violence in media. Because of this, many films and TV shows were affected and were rescheduled or re-edited. The film was pushed back to August 20, 1999 and re-titled "Teaching Mrs. Tingle", which was deemed more acceptable.
The film received mostly negative reviews, with Rotten Tomatoes measuring a 19% approval rating with an average rating of 4 out of 10. The critics' consensus reads: 'As a dark comedy-thriller, this movie lacks humor and thrill.'. On Metacritic, the film scored 35 out of 100 based on 32 critics, indicating 'generally unfavorable reviews'. Roger Ebert compared the film to Election in its concept but said that Teaching Mrs. Tingle fell short of Election in wit, and in that Teaching Mrs. Tingle had no sympathetic characters. Ebert complimented Mirren's acting, however. Beth Pratt Common Sense Media gave the film 1 star of out of 5, calling it a "misguided teen thriller". However, there were some positive reviews for the film. Thom Bennett of Film Journal International praised the film, calling it "an entertaining film full of Williamson's familiar movie-reference-laced dialogue." Michael Dequina of The Movie Reporter gave the film 3 out of 4 stars calling the film "admittedly junky but wickedly watchable revenge fantasy."
The film was a box office bomb. The film made US$3.3 million in its opening weekend, debuting at #10 at the North American box office. However, by its second week, the film dropped down to #15 and brought in $2,344,298. The film continued to drop and on its final week in the box office, the film was at #44. By the end of its run, the film grossed $8,951,935 at the domestic box office, losing $4,480,065 against an estimated budget of $13 million.
The original motion picture soundtrack was released by Capitol Records on August 17, 1999. The album features music from Eve 6, The Moffatts, Stretch Princess, Tara MacLean, Duncan Sheik, Kendall Payne, Sozzi, Bree Sharp, Radford and Eman.
The score was composed by John Frizzell and was released as an album on August 24, 1999 by Varése Sarabande.
The film was released on DVD and VHS on December 21, 1999 by Dimension Home Video. As part of a deal with Miramax, Echo Bridge Home Entertainment released the film on Blu-ray on May 3, 2011. Teaching Mrs. Tingle was released in several countries on Blu-ray, including the United Kingdom on June 25, 2012 by StudioCanal UK, Germany on June 7, 2012 by Studio Canal, France on July 3, 2012 by Studio Canal and Spain on November 30, 2011 by Emon Home Entertainment.