The Kindergarten Teacher

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

The Kindergarten Teacher
dir-scr Sara Colangelo
prd Talia Kleinhendler, Osnat Handelsman-Keren, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Celine Rattray, Trudie Styler
with Maggie Gyllenhaal, Parker Sevak, Gael Garcia Bernal, Michael Chernus, Anna Baryshnikov, Rosa Salazar, Ajay Naidu, Daisy Tahan, Sam Jules, Samrat Chakrabarti, Haley Murphy, Ato Blankson-Wood
release US 12.Oct.18,
UK 8.Mar.19
18/US 1h36

bernal chernus salazar
london film fest

sevak and gyllenhaal
Subtle and intriguing, this quietly involving remake of the 2014 Israeli drama is an exploration of creativity through the eyes of a teacher who colours outside the lines as she tries to protect and encourage a gifted student. Writer-director Sara Colangelo and lead actress Maggie Gyllenhaal add remarkable complexity to this portrait of a woman in a carefully controlled, slow-motion freefall.
In New York, Lisa (Gyllenhaal) teaches young children by day and takes a poetry class across the river in the evening, something her husband Grant (Chernus) is trying to understand. Then Lisa spots the prodigious poem-writing talent of 5-year-old student Jimmy (Sevak), who is being raised by a nanny (Salazar) while his busy dad (Naidu) is absent. Lisa begins to coach Jimmy in how to tap into his artistic temperament, jotting down his evocative words. She also brings his poetry to her night class, catching the attention of her teacher Simon (Bernal).
There are constant wrinkles in Lisa's life, as she worries about the decisions her own teen children (Tahan and Jules) are making. The ways her interest in Jimmy's talent strains her relationships at home are never remotely simple, especially as her insecurity creates an awkward attraction between her and Simon that eerily echoes her connection with Jimmy. And Colangelo directs the film in an earthy way that feels understated and often unnervingly intimate, making the audience complicit.

Gyllenhaal gives a remarkably full-on performance, making the most of tiny touches in which Lisa deliberately steps over various lines. It's a terrific role, and Gyllenhaal finds big moments without ever trying to be flashy. Lisa seems composed, but she's a mess, worried that the system will ignore his gift and crippled by the thought that this little boy eclipses any talent she might hope to have. Her connection with Sevak is extraordinary, and he plays Jimmy with remarkable poise and intelligence.

As Simon says, all artists take from each other, but what Lisa is doing goes far beyond this idea in ways that are both positive and negative. So a quick, easy judgement of her actions is impossible. The story progresses in directions that are continually unexpected, digging deeply into Lisa's state of mind. And what's most surprising is how easy it is to understand what pushes her to make each decision along the way. This is not only a pungent drama, but it's also a wake-up call to a society with the wrong priorities.

cert 12 themes, language 5.Mar.19

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall