I thought about a lot of things while watching The Kindergarten Teacher. One being; “wow… I can't believe I actually feel sympathy towards this woman,” and the second being; “how in the WORLD has Maggie Gyllenhaal never won an Oscar?” The latter is something I could rattle on for hours about in regards to both of the Gyllenhaal siblings (IT’S CRIMINAL, RIGHT?), but I’ll save that rant for another day.
The Kindergarten Teacher is the sophomore feature from director Sara Colangelo. It’s an American remake of Nadav Lapid’s Israeli film of the same name and follows a woman named Lisa Spinelli (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who’s a Kindergarten teacher by day and a budding poet in the evenings at her night school. She longs to be as well-read and eloquent as the poems that are read by her classmates but begins to lose self-esteem when receiving criticisms from them and her arresting instructor (Gael García Bernal), who believe her work to be mediocre at best. She’s a woman who appears cool, calm, and collected on the outside, but is practically screaming for affirmation in her work and personal life on the inside. Colangelo so expertly captures these feelings that you feel a sense of commiseration for Lisa, even when things take a disturbing turn.
One day, as students are heading out the door for home, a young boy from her class begins mumbling and pacing back and forth. She pauses and asks him to repeat what he said while quickly scribbling it down, realizing that the words this young boy has so nonchalantly spoken are actually stunning and powerful verses – something you wouldn’t expect to hear from just any child. Lisa becomes obsessed with this little boy and his “gift”, even using his own poems in her night class which leads to an awe-struck reaction from her peers – filling up the empty void inside of her that craved validation.
What’s so mesmerizing about Lisa is that you feel sympathetic towards her, even as she slips down a steep slope of inexcusable behavior. Colangelo’s script is so well-executed that, as time ticks on, it narrows and has Lisa walking a very fine line. Her advice teeters towards manipulation, making for tension so thick that it feels suffocating. Gyllenhaal only elevates this tension with a captivating performance that really leaves you wondering just how far her character is willing to go to get what she wants.
Want to know something cool? You can watch this on NETFLIX. Have at it, friends! Then we’ll gather for a rant on Why The Gyllenhaal’s Deserve Oscars Right Now, Dammit.