The Kindergarten Teacher: Film Review

I love Maggie Gyllenhaaal (particularly when she waved at me at the BAFTAs years ago) and I think she is a fantastic actress – something which she continues to prove in The Kindergarten Teacher, a gripping drama in which she plays a morally questionable teacher.

She plays Lisa Spinelli, who is dissatisfied with her married life, has been teaching kindergarten for 20 years and has been told her attempts at poetry are “derivative” in an evening class. One day she hears five-year-old Jimmy (Parker Sevak) creating a poem at school and she believes he is a child prodigy. She wins praise when she takes his work to her class and then becomes obsessed with inspiring and nurturing his talent which leads to her completely overstepping the boundaries of a teacher-pupil relationship.

The film rests on Gyllenhaaal’s shoulders as she is in every scene and drives the story. Luckily she gives one of the best performances of her career. I don’t want to ruin what happens but her behaviour becomes increasingly disturbing and unsettling but she instils so much humanity in Lisa that you understand her perspective and why she’s behaving that way. Rather than judge Lisa and think of her as a monster, I felt sorry for her.

Parker was adorable and a very competent actor for his age, Gael Garcia Bernal was a terrific addition as the poetry teacher in awe of her newfound talent, while there was good support from Michael Chernus as her husband Grant and Rosa Salazar as Jimmy’s nanny Becca.

The Kindergarten Teacher is described as a drama and certainly starts off as an intriguing character study, but then it becomes as tense as a thriller because you don’t know what she’s going to do next or how far she is going to take things. I feared it was going to go into paedophile territory but I just want to assure you that it doesn’t go quite that far but where it ends up will still make you uneasy. I would have liked an extra five minutes to get full closure and a debrief on the outcome of Lisa’s actions but they were hinted at so we can make a very good guess.

The film is a gripping drama about the extreme lengths one person will go to to indulge their obsession. Gyllenhaaal has never been better. Highly recommend.

In selected cinemas Friday 8th March 

(Rating: 4/5)

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