Maggie Gyllenhaal gives a remarkably perplexing performance in the study of true despondency, steadily delegating into a real bona fide disturbance. The story is told with immense restraint, which only amplifies the fascination in this remake of Nadav Lapid’s 2014 drama. Focusing on parenting, adulthood, and guidance – The film also makes you question the motivations of those who use a child’s development as a way to invigorate their own self-esteem. Sara Colangelo’s (writer/director) in-depth, meager drama conceals much about its main character, allowing Gyllenhaal to draw the design of a shattered soul.
We first encounter Lisa Spinelli as a warmhearted, patient kindergarten teacher from Staten Island who takes poetry classes in Manhattan on a weekly basis. Without giving too much away, as the last thing I would want to do is spoil this movie for anyone wanting to see it months from now (Because you definitely should) – Spinelli becomes a bit of a social vigilante.
One of her students, five-year-old Jimmy (Parker Sevak) behaves like most kids in kindergarten, but every so often he goes into almost a hypnotic-like state and starts reciting poetry. It’s evident the boy’s vocabulary and syntax are coming from “elsewhere,” but while an unoriginal film with much less success would, perhaps, go down some sort of supernatural possession path – What compels Lisa more than anything else is her appetite to archive his work.
Ironically enough, nobody else seems that impressed or really cares. The boy’s mother has long been gone, while his father is a successful owner of a sleazy nightclub… too “busy” to admire any talents his son may possess. Lisa knows that little Jimmy is the next T.S Elliot, but with nobody really giving a fuck, she worries he’ll have the talent rooted out of him by a society infatuated with cell phone apps and video games. So she decides to take him to countless museums. She decides to present his work at poetry readings. She decides to take everything… way too far.
Even outside the spellbinding reality of Jimmy’s gift, The Kindergarten Teacher is an incredible discovered story of a woman approaching a mid-life crisis whilst in conflict with her own vanquished dreams.
Her home life is dreadful. Her son is eager to join the military against her wishes. Her daughter has abandoned all ambition outside of social media. And she hasn’t been banged by her husband since probably the Bush/Gore election. Time and time again we see her snacking on bland-looking vegetables, so much so it seems to be Colangelo’s way of symbolizing her banal, unappealing life. With Jimmy in the picture though, it’s as if she has a purpose.
Lisa’s actions are nothing if not pure, which is why the third act becomes such a meandering of ethics. She sees herself as the hero, but truthfully… I think the film does as well. A level of daring we don’t see too often in movies about children. Without question, The Kindergarten Teacher is the only poetry production, if I will, that delivers an ending comparable to a thriller – Particularly in regards to its cosmic tensity.
By Brandon Colón