The Kindergarten Teacher review: Mid-life crisis drama turns thriller

Despite the protagonist’s rule breaking, the film does not rule out that she may be right

Maggie Gyllenhaal (right) stars as Lisa Spinelli alongside Parker Sevak (left) as five-year-old Jimmy.

Film Title: The Kindergarten Teacher

Director: Sara Colangelo

Starring: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Parker Sevak, Anna Baryshnikov, Rosa Salazar, Michael Chernus, Gael García Bernal

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 97 min

Thu, Mar 7, 2019, 06:00

   

At first glance, Lisa Spinelli (Maggie Gyllenhaal), is an ideal tutor.

She chops vegetables for snacks. She treads softly between her charges during naptime. In her sing-song voice, she coaxes one more snake curved letter from the class before break.

At home, there are few screaming matches.

Her college-age son’s interest in the military causes some discord and Lisa scolds her teenage daughter for a lack of imagination when the latter is caught with a joint. Her husband (Chernus) seems kind and supportive.

Yet there’s a strange, silent malaise around the house.

Lisa’s yearning for something more than middle-class comfort is etched across her face as she attends an adult-education poetry course she takes after work, led by a charismatic professor (Gael Garcia Bernal).

But her poems are dismissed as derivative and lacking voice by fellow-students.

With the preciousness of artistic talent already in mind, Lisa overhears one of her own students, a precocious five-year-old named Jimmy (Parker Sevak), recite a poem, which is rapturously received at poetry class when she passes it off as her own composition.

That’s a little cringe-making, but it’s merely an amuse-bouche for the spiralling, toe-curling obsession that follows. Lisa has decided that little Jimmy is a prodigy and she’s going to do everything she can to nurture his talent against a soul-crushing world.

She takes him on impromptu excursions; she goes to see Jimmy’s uncle; she persuades the family to get rid of Jimmy’s current nanny (Rosa Salazar) for treating Jimmy “like a child”.

Gyllenhaal’s soft, measured speech patterns and her character’s genuine passion for art and beauty, make for a fiendishly ambivalent film that segues from poetry appreciation and mid-life crisis drama into flinching thriller.

Adapting a 2014 Israeli film of the same name, Sara Colangelo keeps a similarly cool head, never allowing for histrionics.

Forget bunny boiling: the titular heroine’s actions may be wildly inappropriate but The Kindergarten Teacher never rules out the possibility that she may just be onto something.