Oct 20, 2018
Welcome back to Streaming Saturday! We’re catching up on the Netflix Original releases, as five were released last week. For a few other recent Netflix Original films, check out “The 3rd Eye” (Episode #276), “Private Life” (Episode #279), “Nappily Ever After” (Episode #268), and “Hold The Dark” (Episode #272). And if you have any suggestions or favorites, let me know at onemoviepunch.com.
Today’s movie is “The Kindergarten Teacher” (2018), the Netflix Original drama directed by Sara Colangelo and written for the screen based on the screenplay by Nadav Lapid. The film follows Lisa Spinelli (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a kindergarten teacher who attends a night class for poetry as a creative outlet. When she discovers a five-year-old student named Jimmy (Parker Sevak) who may be a prodigy, she risks a great deal to help him develop his potential, and then tips over into full-blown obsession.
Everything changes when you become a parent. How you think about the world, how you interact with the world, and most especially, how you choose to develop your child to meet the challenges of the world. Parenting is generally considered one of those topics that you don’t discuss in polite company, along with money, religion, and politics. I’m not talking about discussing your child’s life, but rather how you choose to parent and how you justify those choices. My daughter just entered high school this year, and I’ve learned over the last fifteen years that who I wanted her to be and who she has become are two separate people. I’ve also learned that the parent I wanted to be and the parent I’ve become are also two different people, and this juxtaposition raises a lot of complex emotions and feelings. Feelings that only another parent with adolescent and older children can understand. If I had to pick an audience for this film, it is most definitely older parents.
“The Kindergarten Teacher” is based on an Israeli film of the same name from 2014. I’m not generally a fan of transplanted films or remakes, unless the changes in technology or society add new parameters to the story to make the effort worth it. Film-making has advanced enough now that Hollywood shouldn’t have to cherry-pick the great ideas among the poor production of some overseas markets, then repackage things for domestic consumption. However, I really appreciated Sara Colangelo’s adaptation, because while the premise of an obsessive teacher having a middle aged crisis is interesting enough, adding the weird milieu of New York metro in the late 2010s helps tell the same story from a much different cultural standpoint, one that will probably have more meaning and impact with domestic middle-aged parents of today. It’s well-written, but it’s also incredibly well-acted by Maggie Gyllenhaal, someone known to divide many folks on #FilmTwitter because reasons? I’m not really sure why. I can say, though, that she gives one of her best performances in this film, starting as your typical, struggling middle-aged middle-class teacher, and increasing the obsessive feel one moral compromise and justification at a time, while still being blinded to the social destruction she was leaving in her wake.
In addition to Gyllenhaal nailing the progressive nature of the character’s development, Colangelo also kept a general feeling of uncomfortableness, so powerful at times that the parent in me wants to look away, even though the film critic in me is also quietly obsessed with what’s transpiring. Parker Sevak’s innocent performance only adds to this slow breakdown, and the rest of the supporting cast serves well in their capacity to either feed her obsession or to increase the dissonance about her life and actions. The short running time makes the tension bearable enough, leading to not so much of a climax as a resolution, one that might give away a few too many themes at play in the film which could have been left unspoken. It’s a minor criticism, though, and with Jimmy’s final lines, you realize Lisa was probably right all along, at least about Jimmy’s talent and future.
“The Kindergarten Teacher” (2018) is a meditation on obsession, featuring a stellar performance from Maggie Gyllenhaal. Sara Colangelo’s adaptation of the original work makes use of all the opportunities in transplanting the characters and locations to New York, giving an awkward look into dealing with middle age in a world that might be losing more than we think. Fans of Maggie Gyllenhaal, or fans of tales of obsession and middle age, should definitely check out this film. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go pick up my daughter from school, and never leave her out of my sight again.
Rotten Tomatoes: 89% (FRESH)
One Movie Punch: 8.4/10
“The Kindergarten Teacher” (2018) is rated R and is currently streaming on Netflix.