The Movie Waffler New to MUBI - THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER | The Movie Waffler


The Kindergarten Teacher review
A teacher develops an overbearing interest in a young poetry prodigy.

Review by Musanna Ahmed

Directed by: Sara Colangelo

Starring: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Parker Sevak, Gael Garcia Bernal, Rosa Salazar, Michael Chernus

the kindergarten teacher poster

It’s becoming tiresome to write in a review for almost every film starring the Gyllenhaal siblings in a leading role that it features their best performance yet, considering that both Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal have been one-upping themselves for their entire careers. Yet that title is certainly demanded in this review of The Kindergarten Teacher - Maggie Gyllenhaal’s tremendous feat, as a discontent kindergarten teacher with a tendentious interest in a child prodigy, necessitates all the superlatives.

Stuck between an enervated marriage to her white-bread husband Grant (Michael Chernus) and their pair of stand-offish teenage children, Lisa Spinelli (Gyllenhaal) chooses to instead emit her energy in poetry, attending a class led by the highfalutin Simon (Gael Garcia Bernal). She is, to put it politely, not a very good writer in Simon’s eyes, which kills the creative momentum she seeks to launch herself above the tedium of her reality.

The Kindergarten Teacher review

One day, inspiration strikes in the form of child prodigy Jimmy Roy (Parker Sevak). Jimmy is Lisa’s po-faced student who’s often left behind at the end of the class awaiting the arrival of his tardy babysitter, Becca (Rosa Salazar). The downtime causes Jimmy to inadvertently drift off into the same world as his teacher as he recites an original poem. Struck by his creativity, Lisa makes it her mission to harness this child’s creativity by devoting a special level of attention to him. She goes to unpredictable lengths to cultivate this advanced child’s talents.

Their journey together as fledgling poets is bizarre and, at times, pretty intense. Writer/director Sara Colangelo was awarded at Sundance with the U.S. Dramatic: Directing award but she could easily make the case for her wicked film as a non-traditional comedy. The hilariously squirm-inducing cringe humour is derived from Lisa’s warped view of the world and her pretentiousness in explaining it, thus leading her to take care of Jimmy to an abnormal extent.

The Kindergarten Teacher review

In defiance of her most outlandish qualities, what makes Lisa so believable - and even sympathetic, when considering the unimaginative people around her - is the actress’ complete commitment to her coltish character. Ms Spinelli’s navigation of a landmine-filled relationship with her young pupil makes her prone to heedless actions but Gyllenhaal uncorks genuine pathos for us to believe that Lisa is somewhat aware of all the red flags. These emotions boil over in an anxiety-inducing climax that even one-ups the car scene in Eighth Grade.

Lisa goes around probing everyone close to Jimmy about his metrical aptitude and her interrogation of Becca prompts the babysitter to respond that "Jimmy is a weirdo." It’s a throwaway comment from Becca’s perspective but a succinct analysis by Colangelo of a key theme in her movie - the "weirdos" find a kinship in each other as they don’t fit entirely into the norm. Sevak’s Elia Suleiman-esque deadpan to everything going on around Jimmy may be rooted in his characterisation of a child with ASD, but that angle goes unexplored.

The Kindergarten Teacher review

Back at the BFI London Film Festival 2018, where The Kindergarten Teacher had its UK premiere, there was another indie movie on the bill, Mark Jackson’s This Teacher. Beyond the similar title, the two pictures have little in common in their premises but share key qualities in having similarly oddball characters at their centre, an intense sense of humour, and, most of all, sheer unpredictability. Considering the current undistributed status of This Teacher, we might have to wait a while before it’s possible to programme this intriguing pairing together in a double bill but, for now, The Kindergarten Teacher is worth seeking out for Gyllenhaal’s unsettling performance.

The Kindergarten Teacher is on MUBI UK now.