At Edinburgh Filmhouse until Thu 25 April 2019
Based on the 2014 Israeli film of the same name, The Kindergarten Teacher follows Lisa, a New York kindergarten teacher who becomes obsessed with one of her students, whom she believes is a child prodigy.
When we first meet Lisa (portrayed wonderfully by Maggie Gyllenhaal) it is clear that she is unfulfilled in her life, both personally and professionally, seeming exhausted by all of those around her: colleagues, husband, and even her own children. Her one escape in life is a weekly poetry class, which in and of itself is a cause of her restlessness in life due to her lack of talent, so when she hears a student in her class, Jimmy (portrayed by Parker Sevak in his very first role), reading one of his very own poems she is beyond excited and scribbles it down right away. As the film progresses, we see Lisa’s desire to “nurture” Jimmy’s talent progress at an alarming rate. Sneaking him out of naptime to claustrophobic locations such as the bathroom to encourage him to tell her of his poems and saving her number into his phone is just the beginning of her controlling and manipulative nature.
Gyllenhaal is the perfect casting for this role; not only does she look the part, she acts it too, through her charisma in the classroom and her exhaustion at home. Although it’s a performance full of subtle nuances, Gyllenhaal may have understated her own performance a little too much as her performance can feel a little one-note within certain parts of the film. Opposite her, Sevak takes on the role of Jimmy and is beyond impressive. Similar to Gyllenhaal, Sevak is the ideal casting choice, and at the right age he is playful enough that he seems like any other kid, whilst the writing shows that he is anything but.
Frankly, Sara Colangelo deserves a standing ovation for this movie. She has managed to take a touchy subject and has executed it with care and passion, whilst also releasing one of the fiercest movies of the year. As well as using her fantastic writing and directing skills to create the multi-layered character of Lisa and make her much more than a monster, she also delivers a message about art and its importance. It is clear that Colangelo is a director to keep an eye on for the future.