Saturday 4 June 2022

Movie Review: The Kindergarten Teacher (2018)

An obsession drama, The Kindergarten Teacher probes the fine line between good intentions and catastrophic meddling.

In Staten Island, New York, Lisa Spinelli (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a kindergarten teacher dissatisfied with her suburban life. The passion has seeped out of her marriage to Grant, and she believes her three teenaged kids are underachieving. Lisa attends night classes in poetry writing, but her contributions are critiqued by her teacher Simon (Gael GarcĂ­a Bernal) as derivative and not personal enough.

In her kindergarten classroom, Lisa spots five and a half year old student Jimmy suddenly reciting an original poem. She writes it down, and learns from his nanny that Jimmy regularly composes poetry. Lisa is entranced, believing the child is a prodigy. She presents the poems as her own, impressing Simon and her classmates. Lisa starts obsessively occupying Jimmy's time, as her grip on reality spirals into an unpredictable orbit.

A remake of a 2014 Israeli film, The Kindergarten Teacher seeks the intersection of low self esteem, misplaced illusions of cultural grandeur, and a teacher's instinct to nurture talent. Writer and director Sara Colangelo crafts a quiet exploration of mental illness hiding behind a facade of normalcy and ready to feast on unfulfilled expectations. In what is essentially a one-person character study, Maggie Gyllenhaal occupies the central role with a fine performance, hiding disintegration behind the mundane tasks of getting on with living.

The film stores coiled energy by steering well clear of any traditional thriller or suspense elements, or even planned ill-intent. Lisa's enduring appeal fuels the drama, eliciting warm sympathy as a woman juggling career and family while aiming for self-improvement. Her enthralment and interest upon spotting Jimmy's talent is the desired reaction from a good kindergarten teacher.

Colangelo then dispassionately traces a distressing journey for teacher and student as Lisa surrenders to a burst of lustful betrayal before her behaviour progresses from supportive to annoying to lying, then stalking, and ultimately worse. Her logic of encouraging prodigious talent and protecting genius from the ravages of an uncaring world is internally sound; to everyone else, The Kindergarten Teacher is discreetly unhinged.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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