The Kindergarten Teacher
Director: Sara Colanelo
Sara Colanelo’s remake of the 2014 Israeli film of the same name seemed to generate nothing but positive praise for Maggie Gyllenhaal in the lead as a 40-ish kindergarten teacher stuck in a unsatisfying marriage, with grown children and searching for something. She finds it in one of her young students, Jimmy Roy. He goes into a trance-like state and recites original poetry that seems profound, wise well beyond his years.
Oddly, a lot of reviews of the film – now available on DVD – seemed to stop the praise after mentioning Gyllenhaal (with basic lip-service to the rest of the cast). As Lisa Spinelli, Gyllenhaal is magnificent. The way she has been across most of her career to date, but it’s certainly close to her all time best. I also think the film is profound, brilliant, moving and deeply unsettling.
So where others were less convinced by the way this slowly turns towards almost being a thriller (a thriller about poetry no less!) I saw it as a tone-poem in and of itself; this is about the existential loss, the dwindling in middle-age, the sadness that inarticulates in the background, that lurks and alters moods as we ponder the grind and wonder if it might ever get any better. Life is the grind. The grind is life. You sprinkle it with happiness if you’re lucky enough.
Spinelli is stuck. She sees hope in Jimmy Roy. She grabs at that hope a little too quickly, a little too intensely and, yes, super-strange. Here a grown woman starts reading a kid’s poetry in her writing class, claiming it as her own. She juggles schedules to spend more time with this kid, wants to tutor him, believes he’s a Mozart; this garden needs extra tending, needs more water.
As the film creeps (that word seems wise) towards its powerful – worrying – finale I was gob smacked by the heart and humanity on offer in this script (and its execution, the casting, the works).
It hit me on a deep level. One I can’t even begin to explain. Well, I guess I’ve started…
But I just wanted to recommend this film – on DVD (and available to stream too of course) because I was amazed that so many reviewers seemed to struggle with the direction the movie takes. I thought it was superb. Profound. Beautiful. Most troubling. It’s in no way similar at all but the visceral charge I received from this film reminded me of when I (recently) viewed both Vox Lux and Destroyer. Beyond career-best performances from strong female leads, and the hit that they gave me, there’s no reason to line those movies up of course. But they’re all amazing films to me.
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