Director: Sara Colangelo
Cinematography: Pepe Avila Del Pino
Writers: Sara Colangelo (screenplay), Nadav Lapid
Starring: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Parker Sevak, Gael Garcia Bernal
My journalism professor pounded into my head to never bury the lede, and for Sara Colangelo’s “The Kindergarten Teacher,” Maggie Gyllenhaal’s desperate performance is the high-mark in an endearing and uncommon story. Gyllenhaal’s acting was captivated through her creepiness and range.
The story follows Lisa Spinelli (Gyllenhaal), a middle-aged teacher, mother of two stuck between the disappointment of her career and the mundane of modern life. She also happens to be a kindergartner teacher that stumbles across a student that embodies her hopes and desires through his God-given talents and dialect. Jimmy Roy (Parker Sevak) is a poetry prodigy and Spinelli picks up his talents early in the film. Her teacher-student relationship devolves into something unexplainable and downright weird. The best part is there’s no telling where this story was headed and the ending is so satisfyingly good.
For Gyllenhaal, it was essentially her job to carry this film, leading with her changing, obsessive character that willingly lets go of reality. Her range in this performance is magnificent, ranging from a complicated yet loving home life, her gentleness with students, and her inner desire to be somebody worthy of professional recognition. She is the centerpiece of every scene and her relationship with Jimmy is what makes it go.
For Parker Sevak, he didn’t have to do a lot, but his performance was definitely noteworthy in a good way. His innocence was a good portrayal while his vernacular sometimes reached well past his mental capabilities as a kindergartener, making some of his poems sound utterly ridiculous. However, the story is not really about his talents. It’s about Spinelli losing her grip on the real world and staying uber-focused on this Machiavellian parallel in her mind that drives her each and every action.
For Colangelo, it’s all about the script and the dialogue. Although some of Parker’s dialogue and intellect can be hard to believe, the script and character development, especially on Spinelli, is an exemplary aspect of the film. It’s more of a character study, following her inner and outer motivations. The aesthetics of the film are bleak, dour and nothing to ride home about, but it’s easy to overlook that due to the veracity of the script.
I found this film to be unbelievably captivating, mostly because of how creepy Maggie Gyllenhaal’s performance is as the kindergarten teachers. It’s absolutely one of the best performances of the year and the best of Maggie’s illustrious career.
The last moment and line of this film will stick.