Harassment and Political Correctness, Mamet-Style

Article excerpt

"OLEANNA" No MPAA rating, language, brief violence. Running time: 1:29. IF you can endure sitting through "Oleanna," chances are you'll talk about it afterward, debating the big-picture aspects of the sexual politics and political correctness that underscore David Mamet's film, which he adapted from his off-Broadway play.

So it depends on whether you value provocation and discussion more than being entertained, because "Oleanna" is as engaging as watching people grind their teeth.

As in Mamet's play, the plot of the movie centers exclusively on two characters: John (William H. Macy), a self-important, egocentric university professor on the verge of securing tenure, and Carol (Debra Eisenstadt), the whiny, distraught student who is failing his class.

She comes to his office to talk about her grade. He's busy on the phone negotiating to buy a new house. Eventually they have a conversation, about pedagogy, about his book, about his problems. All the while, she keeps moaning, "I don't understand."

Between phone calls about the new house, he makes her tea and says he'll help because he likes her.

Their second meeting comes after she has filed a complaint with the tenure committee alleging sexual harassment. Now the power has shifted and Carol has assumed more authority.

The idea that a conversation about one thing could be misinterpreted as something else or that a reflexive touch could become an overt sexual gesture is an interesting premise.

It's even more interesting when the people doing the speaking or the touching are not on equal footing, say as in the case of a professor and a student, and power and gender issues come into play. …