The Kindergarten Teacher

The Kindergarten Teacher
The Kindergarten Teacher
Directed by Sara Colangelo
Starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, Parker Sevak, Michael Chernus and Gael García Bernal
In UK cinemas March 8th, 2019

by Joanna Orland

Kindergarten teacher Lisa Spinelli (Gyllenhaal) spends her days caring for her class of young children, and her evenings in a continuing education poetry class. Her marriage is lacking in chemistry, and her two teenaged kids are disinterested in familial life, with very different interests to their parents. Lisa views herself as an ‘intellectual’ and resents the younger generation’s lack of intellectualism – hooked on their phones and computers instead of reading books. The Kindergarten Teacher is a commentary on the modern devaluation of intellect, wrapped up in the midlife crisis of a woman who desperately wants to make a difference in the cultural realm.

Lisa’s poetry writing skills leave something to be desired, but her appreciation for the art form is thriving. She discovers that one of her young students, 5-year-old Jimmy, is a gifted prodigy when it comes to poetry, using words and concepts highly advanced for his age. She’s determined to nurture his gift for poetry, against his neglectful family’s wishes as she walks down a desperately dangerous path with an inappropriate obsession with Jimmy.

On the surface, the plot of The Kindergarten Teacher is highly engaging, entertaining and intense. Unravelling the layers of subtext reveals a story that hasn’t really been told from this perspective before – a female midlife crisis. We’ve seen many men (on screen and off) demonstrate the classic midlife behaviour such as leaving their family for a younger woman, buying a lavish sports car, getting a new hairdo or dressing far too young for their age; but what would that look like if it were a female fronted narrative? The Kindergarten Teacher offers one take on this idea, using Lisa’s maternal side to drive the crisis amidst years of feeling overlooked, undervalued and underappreciated.

Maggie Gyllenhaal is fantastic as Lisa, portraying her with a sympathy that perhaps her actions don’t really deserve. Gael García Bernal is perfectly cast as her poetry teacher, an attractive intellectual with an element of seductiveness. Parker Sevak as Jimmy may not give the best performance of the film, but he serves his purpose as a wide-eyed 5-year-old; adorable and innocent, convincingly reciting his poetic creations which drive Lisa’s desire to archive his work and nurture his seemingly rare talent.

An exploration of the maternal midlife, and a commentary on the anti-intellectualism of today’s youth, The Kindergarten Teacher is a wonderfully observed story with strong performances at its core. Told confidently by director Sara Colangelo, the film balances empathy, sympathy, comedy and thriller to give us a completely new perspective on an old idea.


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