My Review of The Kindergarten Teacher (2018)

Image courtesy of Variety

4/5 | Drama| Thriller| 1hr 37m

Director: Sara Colangelo
Screenplay: Sara Colangelo
Cinematography: Pepe Avila del Pino

I would like to recommend a new Netflix film that will have you fun cringing like crazy: The Kindergarten Teacher.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw one of those pesky Netflix ads that play the moment you open the site. You know the ones I mean, the ads you usually ignore unless you can’t get to your mouse pad at lightning speed. Well, long story short, I couldn’t get to mine fast enough, but whatever because I saw a trailer for The Kindergarten Teacher and immediately became intrigued. The Kindergarten Teacher tells the story of Lisa (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a teacher who becomes obsessed with her 5-year-old student, Jimmy (Parker Sevek), who just so happens to be a poetry prodigy.

This remake of the 2014 Israeli film of the same name seems to fit perfectly into our current social climate. Whether you view this film as a commentary of  women’s position in society, artists vs art appreciators, race, child rearing, or more than likely, all of the above, it is certain that writer-director Sara Colangelo knows what she is doing. The direction is simple but extremely effective, as the intimacy of the shots allows for the viewer to fully take in the performances and become completely enveloped in the story.

When we first meet Lisa Spinelli she is a sweet, caring, kindergarten teacher who takes a weekly poetry class and it is made entirely clear to her by everyone that her work is nothing spectacular. In class one day, she overhears her student Jimmy reciting a poem he created spontaneously. She is amazed by his talent and tries to get his parents to take it seriously, so that he may be nurtured into one of the Greats, but she is dismissed in favor of him having a normal childhood. Horrified, yet somehow understanding,  we watch as this wannabe art aficionado takes matters into her own hands.

While I have always liked Maggie Gyllenhaal, I have never really been wow’d by any of her performances. Whether she is acting in hypnotic indies like Donnie Darko (2001), fanboy favorites like The Dark Knight (2008) , or tongue in cheek television series  like The Deuce, I have always just viewed her performances as competent at best, but The Kindergarten Teacher is different. I was completely blown away by her portrayal  of a woman so sick and tired of being ignored that she goes to shocking lengths to be heard. This is definitely a career high for her and I’m sure she will be apart of the conversation come this awards season.

I am seldom a fan of child actors because I feel like far and few in-between go beyond cuteness and display actual talent, but acting newcomer Sevek, coincidentally much like his character, shows a sophistication far beyond his years. His nuanced portrayal of a  naive genius compliments Gyllenhaal’s performance perfectly and makes that shocking ending so much more satisfying. I promise you’ll be thinking about it for the rest of the day.

While you never fully agree with the choices Lisa makes in the film, you realize you are faced with an ethical conundrum. She is both parts right and wrong and her actions never come from a sinister place. She is always acting from a place of purity and motherly instinct, even if those instincts do happen to be in regards to someone else’s child.  Who knew poetry could be so exciting? This film is a must watch.

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