Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Girl Week 2018: The Kindergarten Teacher

We've reached Day 3 of Girl Week 2018 and I'm (temporarily) back in the driver's seat.

Directed by Sara Colangelo.
2018. Rated R, 97 minutes.
Maggie Gyllenhaal
Parker Sevak
Gael Garcia Bernal
Anna Baryshnikov
Rosa Salazar
Michael Chernus
Ajay Naidu
Daisy Tahan
Samrat Chakrabarti

Lisa Spinelli (Gyllenhaal) is the titular kindergarten teacher. She leads a pretty mundane life with her husband and kids. Recently, she's added a bit of variety by signing up for a poetry class. She's passionate about it, but not as good a poet as she would like to be. Her world gets turned upside down when little Jimmy (Sevak) comes into her classroom. He seems to be a student like any other until she witnesses him spontaneously compose a poem off the top of his head while in a trance-like state. She writes down what he says, takes it to her poetry class, passes it off as her own, and everyone loves it. That starts one snowball rolling downhill. The bigger snowball, poised to gather all stems from her better intentions. Lisa believes Jimmy is a prodigy and is hellbent on not letting his talent go to waste.

Director Sara Colangelo delivers a film uncertain about the questions it raises, yet completely sure in the telling of its story. She uses the very natural performances of her cast to craft a lived-in world we're at once familiar with. Even though most of the characters are flat renditions we still feel the weight of life on them. This grows in importance as the movie progresses because it's this weight crushing the soul of our protagonist, guiding her down a dangerous path. Colangelo keeps it compelling by making her film smolder. We see the smoke early, but don't pay it much mind until we find ourselves in the middle of an uncontrollable blaze.

The Kindergarten Teacher ticks too many of my personal boxes for me to not at least like it. I'm a teacher (3rd grade) with a love for poetry (and just about any other type of writing), who is wishing for the day an undeniable genius takes a seat in my class. What it does with those boxes makes it both intriguing and devastating. It confuses your emotions in the best way possible, leaving us conflicted over the notion that our hero and villain could be one in the same. Empathy and disgust rumble round our souls as we ponder the evidence, irrefutable and discouraging, telling us that this person is absolutely night and just as wrong. That person is Lisa. We hate her means but cannot deny the ends by which she desperately tries to justify them. Maggie Gyllenhaal brings all of this screaming to life. Every step her Lisa makes is simultaneously unbelievable and genuine. She's trying to reach a place of light by traveling down the darkest possible corridor. Each passing moment is the next stage of Lisa's unraveling. By the film's final, disheartening and half a step shy of redemptive shot Gyllenhaal displays the entire mess of her character - unspooled for our perusal and judgement.

We must speak more about the film's last frame, but we'll tread lightly for fear of spoiling it. The important thing to know is that it brings all of our emotions to a head and very nearly makes us rethink our feelings on the scenario at hand. We realize we can't, but the implications of what we're seeing gives us pause. It's a haunting moment, especially for us creative types. It taps into our deepest fears as, and for, artists after having already dragged us through a nerve-wrecking journey. Our hearts sink as we not only realize what's happening to he people on the screen, but what it may mean for us all.

Day 2's Girl Week Entries


  1. I do want to see this as I'm thinking about downloading it despite not having nor wanting to have Netflix (as I just finished writing a review on a Netflix release). Plus, It's got Maggie who is one of the best actresses.... ever.

    1. She certainly kills it, here. Hope you get to see it soon.

  2. Maggie Gyllenhaal was amazing in this. This was nerve-wrecking to watch, you just know what's going to happen next is not going to be good for her.

  3. Sounds intriguing. I'm always up for Maggie.

  4. Great review! Maggie was so wonderful in this. I hope she's not forgotten come Oscar time. Netflix has really put out some solid films this year.

    1. Thanks! She was flat out amazing. It would be very cool to see her get nominated.

  5. I'm intrigued by your review though I'm not the biggest Maggie Gyllenhaal fan. It does sound disquieting however so it seems like something I'm going to have to be in the mood for rather than something I can just pop in.

    1. Yeah, this is not something to waltz into lightly.

  6. I would like to see this film but, like Joel, I have to be in the right frame of mind for it.

  7. What a great idea for a premise. First I've heard of it but totally intrigued.