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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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“The Kindergarten Teacher:” From Fascination to Obsession

Photo by Creative Commons

Directed by Sara Colangelo and released Oct. 12, “The Kindergarten Teacher” stars Maggie Gyllenhaal. The film is available for streaming on Netflix. 

“The Kindergarten Teacher,” directed by Sara Colangelo, is the english-language remake of the 2014 Israeli film of the same title directed by Nadav Lapid. The film focuses too much on the character study of Maggie Gyllenhaal’s titular role, but her performance in this role is enough to justify the weaker aspects of the film.
“The Kindergarten Teacher” focuses on a relationship between Lisa Spinelli (Gyllenhaal) and her five year old student, Jimmy Roy (Parker Sevak), who she believes has Mozart-like levels of talent in composing poetry. Spinelli, a depressed, middle-aged teacher who is upset with her inability to write her own poetry, instantly latches onto her student’s natural talent and goes to great lengths to protect and advance his poetry career.
Colangelo succeeds in blurring the line between the nurturing ability of a great teacher and the obsessive, jealous fascination with natural talent. However in her focus on the deterioration of Spinelli’s psyche, she begins to lose control over the natural progression and tone of the film in order to bring in genre-bending, psychological thriller elements into her film. This leads to an interesting character study but a distracting film. As Spinelli begins to lose her grip on reality, Colangelo begins to lose her grip on the direction of the film.
Gyllenhaal’s performance is certainly the centerpiece of the film, and her performance as Spinelli makes up for the amateur directorial choices of Colangelo. Gyllenhaal, especially in the scenes where her character attends a night-time continuing education poetry class, draws the audience into her motivations behind her fascination with Roy. It remains unclear whether this fascination is one of true appreciation or if she has sinister plans to exploit Roy as a result of her lack of creativity. Even with the distinguished career of Gyllenhaal (“Secretary,” “Sherrybaby,” “The Honourable Woman”), she continues to out-act her previous work.
Although Colangelo succeeds in the focus of Gyllenhaal’s fantastic performance, she neglects the acting talent of Gael García Bernal, who plays the professor at the night school. Even with Bernal in the role of supporting actor to Gyllenhaal, he was tremendously underutilized. Bernal, reduced to a few lines of dialogue that simply support Spinelli’s lack of poetic ability, does his very best with his limited influence. Rather than a mere device to move the plot along, Colangelo should have used his talent independently.
Toward the end of the film, it becomes clear that Colangelo has underdeveloped and subsequently abandoned a few other side plots within her hyperfocus on Gyllenhaal’s performance. Spinelli has a few interactions with her family, and Colangelo attempts to link Spinelli’s artistic frustration with domestic frustration but ultimately leaves those intrafamilial interactions in her focus on the relationship between Spinelli and Roy.
Although the final product isn’t perfect, the story itself is certainly intriguing enough to watch. Ultimately, Colangelo is saved by Gyllenhaal’s and, despite the lack depth to his character, Bernal’s performances. The plot’s flawed psychologically manipulated twists keep the audience somewhat interested, and the performances make the film worth it.
“The Kindergarten Teacher” is now streaming on Netflix.
Rating: 3.5/5

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