Film Review: The Kindergarten Teacher

In a career which has often been overshadowed by her brother, Maggie Gyllenhaal seems to have found her opportunities limited. Despite this, when juicy roles come around she grabs them with both hands. Her first big break came in Steven Shainberg’s Secretary, where she wowed opposite James Spader. She was also fantastic in Crazy Heart, Frank and Sherrybaby. In her latest film, The Kindergarten Teacher, she gives her best and most subtle performance yet.

Dissatisfied with her humdrum life, Lisa Spinelli (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is constantly looking for ways to improve herself. A kindergarten teacher by day, she takes a poetry class (run by the charismatic Simon (Gael García Bernal)) at night. Unfortunately, her efforts are as bland, derivative and prosaic. After hearing one of her pupils, Jimmy (Parker Sevak), recite one of his poems, she’s convinced he’s a prodigy. Assuming the poetry as her own, Lisa is adamant that she is the only one who can nurture and harness his talents.

The Kindergarten Teacher is an immersive tale about obsession, ennui and an innate human need to feel special. Sara Colangelo successfully adapts Nadav Lapid’s 2014 Israeli film by making a series of clever tweaks, allowing it to translate to an American audience. It’s hard to take your eyes off Gyllenhaal at times as she falls down a rabbit-hole of her own making. Her performance is so nuanced that the ending almost comes as a surprise. The Kindergarten Teacher is a sublime and unsettling drama which slowly buries under your skin and leaves a lasting impression.

The Kindergarten Teacher is in cinemas from 8 March.

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