The Kindergarten Teacher Review
Maggie Gyllenhaal is superb in this story of obsession and love.
The Kindergarten Teacher is a film that at first glance could easily be overlooked as just another mid-life crisis type story. But don’t let that fool you, as slowly but surely it evolves into something both beautiful and tragic.Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Lisa Spinelli, a not quite middle aged kindergarten teacher to a class of tiny 5 year olds. Gyllenhaal delivers an outstanding performance as the kind and nurturing teacher, who chooses her words carefully and speaks in a very soft yet purposeful way to her children. In spite of appearing to take a great deal of joy from her work, Lisa feels like she is lacking real fulfilment in life. Her home life doesn’t offer much in the way of satisfaction either; her husband is there but feigns interest and her two teenage children don’t crave the same intellectual stimulation that she hoped they would; her daughter preferring to post digital pictures with cool filters rather than take actual physical celluloid photos and her son flirting with the idea of joining the marines instead of progressing his education at university.
There is so much going on in this film but at the same time it is one of those very still and very focused gems that doesn’t unleash its full impact until after you’ve finished
A further adult education class in poetry seems to be the key to rid Lisa of her boredom but any hopes of being the next Dickinson, Poe or Wadsworth are soon quashed when fellow classmates call her most recent piece ‘derivative’. And deep down she knows that she doesn’t have that great, sought after talent. But her excitement is peaked when one of her pupils, the ever so cute Jimmy Roy (Parker Sevak), spontaneously starts reciting one of his own poems that is wise beyond his years and speaks of adult worldly wisdom. Realising that this little boy has actual talent that needs to be nurtured and, most of all, heard Lisa takes it upon herself to try and cultivate his gift and gradually finds herself becoming obsessed with not only Jimmy’s poetry but with Jimmy himself.
There is so much going on in this film but at the same time it is one of those very still and very focused gems that doesn’t unleash its full impact until after you’ve finished. The entire duration of the film feels like one long poem and the way that writer and director Sara Colangelo takes her time to hone in on the small details of everyday life punctuates this effect. Adapted from the 2014 film of the same title by director Nadav Lapid, Colangelo shifts the story to American shores.
I haven’t seen the original so I can’t comment on the similarities or differences, but Colangelo’s film takes audiences into places that you don’t expect are coming. The film doesn’t suffer from over editing and embraces natural, everyday activities that function to add to the film’s poetic essence. This only heightens the gradual break from reality that Lisa experiences but simultaneously emphasises the very plausible, and to a certain extent understandable, reasons for her actions throughout the film. This is all underscored by a very understated musical soundtrack that never overshadows the acting or events unfolding but works in perfect harmony.
The Kindergarten Teacher veers its way into dark thriller territory that remains engaging and entertaining to watch from start to finish
The two main characters, Gyllenhaal and Sevak, are both without a doubt great here. Gyllenhaal has once again chosen a script that demonstrates her acting ability and one that she can really get into and fully embody. She was compelling in The Secretary and equally commands your attention here. Her modest, yet none-the-less beautiful, features combined with electric blue eyes enable her to deliver momentary flashes of sheer madness that in the blink of an eye transform into something kind and caring. The absolutely adorable Sevak is bound for big things if his performance here is anything to go by. Strangely detached and quiet from the outset, Sevak’s Jimmy is vulnerable but profoundly wise and honest. Sevak’s naturalness on screen as Jimmy who just wants to nap or play with toys compliments Gyllenhaal’s Lisa as she increasingly breaks from an acceptable reality.
The Kindergarten Teacher won’t be for everyone. Its got its fair share of metaphors and scenes which could be dissected and analysed for a long time afterwards. But it is also a drama that veers its way into dark thriller territory that remains engaging and entertaining to watch from start to finish. There are some real ‘hold you breath’ moments and some rather creepy, skin crawling moments as well. And altogether it works as a good story with great acting and a well rounded and satisfying conclusion.
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