The Kindergarten Teacher Review: LIFF 2018

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Lisa Spinelli (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a gentle kindergarten teacher who takes an evening class in poetry, though she lacks natural skill. When she stumbles upon the outstanding poeticism of five-year-old Jimmy (Parker Sevak), an unremarkable member of her class who periodically enters a trance-like state of poetry recital, the teacher endeavours to celebrate the prodigy’s talent whilst his disinterested family pay little attention to his work. Creating excuses to increase her one-to-one intimacy with the boy, Lisa uses their newfound bond not merely to encourage Jimmy’s creativity, but also to fill the void of her personal inaptitude by plagiarising his talent. The Kindergarten Teacher is an exploration of how morally wrong one can go in the name of artistic appreciation.

Gyllenhaal captures a degree of softness so patient and fair at that, as the narrative starts to unfold, I question how this lady will manage to do any wrong. Though her actions progress from understandable to questionable to out-right predatory, the smoothness of writer-director Sara Colangelo’s storytelling means Lisa never goes through a drastic character change that jerkily edits her motivations.

Also commendable is the contemporaneity Colangelo identifies in her presentation of the arts: Lisa, though impassioned with creativity, has a somewhat antiquated view of artistic expression and fails to consider her daughter’s Instagram account a viable form of photography. The script also addresses the supposed pretentiousness of poets, as Lisa’s daughter yells at her for believing herself superior since she took up the evening class. Colangelo is careful to not romanticize a theme which benefits from critical nuance.

The film pursues a Lolita-esque undertone of justifiability that resists selling Lisa as some kind of tragic hero, she remains the gentle kindergarten teacher throughout her moral discrepancies.

Katherine Corcoran

Image Courtesy of Netflix