Due to a dire lack of new releases to talk about I decided to continue the theme of Netflix movies from this past year. Another movie I missed out on when it premiered on Netflix in 2018 was The Kindergarten Teacher starring Maggie Gyllenhaal. This is one of the most distinctive movies of the last year. The premise is eye catching and the way the story plays out is bold and necessary and surprisingly unexpected.
The Kindergarten Teacher stars Maggie Gyllenhaal as Lisa, the Kindergarten teacher of the title. Lisa is married to Grant (Michael Chernus) with whom she has two High School age children. Her hobby is poetry and she attends an adult education class where she shares her honestly banal talent. Her teacher, Simon (Gael Garcia Bernal), is a dreamboat college professor who is rightly not impressed with her work.
The plot kicks in when Lisa hears a kid in her class, Jimmy (Parker Sevak) randomly begin to spout poetry. It’s quite good poetry, well beyond the talent of a 5 year old. Lisa is mesmerized by the beauty of Jimmy’s poetry so much that she writes it down and then presents it to her class as her own. When her teacher is clearly excited by her new work she begins hounding the kid for more poems which he delivers on.
This sounds like the premise of a bad 90’s comedy where she will have to reveal who really wrote the poems at the end while simultaneously delivering a monologue about the lesson she’s learned from her terrible mistake in stealing from this child. That, however, is not this movie. The Kindergarten Teacher, directed by relative newcomer Sara Colangelo, goes in a completely different and disturbing direction.
This is a very brave and bold performance from Maggie Gyllenhaal. Her Lisa is more comparable to Salieri from Amadeus than she is with any traditional type of character. She is genuinely excited by Jimmy’s incredible talent but behind her eyes you can sense a disturbing sort of jealousy that takes on a whole other level of creepy when you remember that she is jealous of and dedicated to a 5 year old child.
What made the movie that much more interesting for me is that people react to Lisa’s obsession with this kid’s poetry in a perfectly appropriate fashion. Her teaching assistant clocks it when Lisa continuously takes Jimmy out of class during naptime, Jimmy’s nanny is clearly uncomfortable with the odd and obsessive way Lisa talks about Jimmy’s talent and how it needs to be nurtured and though he eventually hires Lisa to watch Jimmy after school, Jimmy’s dad catches on after Lisa takes Jimmy to a poetry reading at night in the city.
Where the film goes from there is for you to discover. It’s both predictable and unpredictable. I found it unpredictable because most mainstream films don’t have this films bravery. Writer-Director Sara Colangelo takes the film to places that are natural progressions and rarely settles for what we expect from lesser films. We’ve been trained to look for the easy ways out and I can say that The Kindergarten Teacher rarely takes the easy way out.
The Kindergarten Teacher is streaming now on Netflix. It’s Rated R, for some nudity and sexuality but that doesn’t have anything to do with the main plot. The film is kind of creepy but not that creepy.