Joanna is an English teacher at a Polish high school, battling student indifference and bursts of foul-mouthed exuberance on a daily basis.
She’s married to Witek, the school’s headmaster, but he’s “falling apart” and sort of checked out of his half of the marriage. That’s probably why she carries on an affair with the school’s safety officer, Maicek.
Her mother has Alzheimer’s and lives with them. Her jerk youngest son Jan is so disconnected from reality and school work that he’s not likely to graduate.
And then there’s her oldest, Adam. He’s married, with his bitchy wife and crying “brat” living with them, three more mouths for Jo to have to listen to, shop for and feed.
The stress of all this is wrecking her health and affecting her nerves. She needs to smoke a blunt, here and there, just to relax.
That’s just one more thing, it turns out, for the person who writes and sends blackmail notes to her to threaten her with.
But really, who is she to complain? She has “My Wonderful Life” and that’s enough.
The latest from the director of “A Coach’s Daughter” is a dry and somewhat frustrating dramedy with a contrived mystery to add suspense.
There’s a “Women on the Verge/Woman Under the Influence” or Jill Clayburgh feminist Hollywood films of the ’70s (“IT’s My Turn”) structure to this life that we see Jo (Ageta Buzek, quite good) trapped in. When she lays out her litany of woes/burdens, she’s inclined to shrug “They all need me,” (in dubbed English, or Polish with subtitles) and I need them.”
But the husband (Jacek Braciak) who strolls home into near chaos — with a stopped-up sink, screeching toddler, inconsiderate son practicing dance videos instead of doing his homework and a wife frazzled by it all — a husband who then chirps “I’m going for a run,” the same husband who left her a note for shopping he can’t be bothered to pitch in with, we do wonder how exactly Jo needs them.
We see a beautiful young colleague insult her, to her face, at a faculty meeting, with Witek saying nothing. We pick up on the effrontery of a daughter-in-law Karina (Wiktoria Wolanska) who expects all this extra care, and the gift of Jo’s mother’s vacant apartment.
Jo is developing a rash and worrying about her health so much that she’s asking “Is it MS?” (another “Dr. Google” self-diagnosis) and getting cat scans, even as her thoughtless family is labeling her a hypochondriac.
And we can’t help but notice that the only time Jo giggles and smiles is when she’s with the lumpy but frisky Maicek (Adam Woronowicz) as they carry on their affair in that very apartment that still belongs to her mother that her bitchy daughter-in-law covets.
The giggles go away when the notes, calling her names and listing her transgressions, start to arrive, when the school is painted up by vandals, when the threats later include still photos, then video.
Not that we didn’t see that coming. The moment Jo and Maicek start videoing each other en flagrante delicto we know that “evidence” is coming out in some form, that Jo will be imperiled by it.
Grzegorzek commits to making this a frustrating drama rather than a darkly amusing comedy, which seems a mistake. All this stress piled on top of one person never reaches the level of tragedy, but a cute scene where her English students take over her class after she’s called into her husband’s office captures how funny this might have been.
There will a big confrontation — only it’s not that confrontational. There is surely a huge unloading of grievances, only it’s mostly a string of pulled-punches.
The “mystery” is a non-starter and gets short shrift in the script.
And if there’s emotional promise to this story about a women bearing more than most of us could handle, it isn’t kept. Jo is martyred to her callous family. She’s a philanderer and subject to absurd pothead shaming. But we can’t feel but so sorry for her if she won’t lash out in her own defense, if she doesn’t shut her smug, wandering-eye husband down with just the right remark, if she tolerates her daughter-in-law’s impudence longer than anyone should.
Buzek, a star of the gripping Oscar short-listed Polish drama “The Pit,” is a striking but rail-thin presence with a whiff of “unhealthy” or “Is she sick?” about her. That and Jo’s constant doctor trips have us waiting for one last shoe to drop.
But even that is left dangling by a filmmaker who has an interesting character and who has put her in quite the spot, yet seems at a loss as to what to do about it.
Rating: TV-MA, sex, nudity, profanity
Cast: Ageta Buzek, Jacek Braciak, Adam Woronowicz, Małgorzata Zajączkowska, Paweł Kruszelnicki, Jakub Zając
Credits: Scripted and directed by Łukasz Grzegorzek. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:40