A middle aged woman feeling unsatisfied in all aspects of her life becomes obsessed with her young student’s poetic talent. The Kindergarten Teacher is a borderline disturbing look at a woman in the midst of a mid-life crisis. At times this film will make you so uncomfortable and yet you can’t stop watching as she puts herself in a series of horrible situations. With a strong performance from Maggie Gyllenhaal and a compelling screenplay, The Kindergarten Teacher is well worth your time.

Lisa Spinelli (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a Kindergarten teacher living on Staten Island with her husband and two teenage children. She follows the same daily routine and is terribly bored with what she deems a mediocre life. To break up her mundane schedule she’s started taking an evening poetry class. Desperate to stand out she recites her poems in class only to be met with confusion and comments on her average talent. One day after school she notices her student, Jimmy (Parker Seva), pacing around the room reciting some poetic lines about a girl named Anna. Lisa’s inspired by his prose and thinks he might be a poetic prodigy. She starts pulling him aside throughout the day, even waking him from naptime to write down his poems. Jimmy’s family doesn’t see the value in his talent and Lisa grows tired of trying to convince them that Jimmy needs special attention. What at first seems like a dedicated teacher mentoring her student turns into a strange obsession. Lisa begins sharing Jimmy’s poems as her own, offering to watch him after class and taking him to art museums without his dad’s permission. Her obsession grows deeper and Lisa makes a series of decisions leading her into a dark place.

If there’s one thing that you’ll take away from this film it’s that Maggie Gyllenhaal gives an incredible performance. Everything about her role as Lisa feels authentic. Gyllenhaal’s body language perfectly demonstrates her exhaustion and boredom with her life. She’s simply going through the motions as she drags her feet walking home from work, or arguing with her kids about their college plans. Lisa is so clearly disappointed with the lack of artistic expression in her own life and Gyllenhaal does a perfect job of physically bringing that to the screen. There’s a true contrast in her eyes, they were void of anything until she starts taking notice of Jimmy’s poems.  Her performance was an accumulation of the smallest of details that add up to a dynamic performance that’s truly memorable.

Another part of this film that is worthy of remembering is the screenplay. Authenticity in a screenplay is something that I really appreciate. I love when the writers can capture a conversation between characters that sounds like a real conversation. This was especially present in Lisa’s conversations with Jimmy. I imagine getting a young actor to sound like an actual kid is extremely difficult but writer and director, Sara Colangelo, made it look easy. These conversations were some of my favorites moments in the film because they felt so real to what was happening. I also loved Lisa as a character. Her disappointment in herself is something that I’m sure we’ve all experienced on some level but her desperation to change it is what I found the most interesting. Her obsession with Jimmy’s poetry is really just a front for her obsession with herself. She’s completely consumed by the life she envisions for herself and watching her self-destruction was powerful.

The Kindergarten Teacher is a gripping psychological drama. It was an interesting experience watching Maggie Gyllenhaal pour herself into this role. With a well-written screenplay and strong lead performance, you won’t regret adding it to your list on Netflix.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Director: Sara Colangelo

Writer: Sara Colangelo, Nadav Lapid (based on the screenplay by)

Starring: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gael García Bernal, Parker Sevak

Release Date: October 12th 

Rated: R 

Runtime: 1 hour and 36 minutes

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