The Kindergarten Teacher (2018)

The Kindergarten Teacher
Director: Sara Colangelo
Writer: Sara Colangelo
Remake of: Haganenet
Cast: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Parker Sevak, Gael García Bernal, Ato Blankson-Wood, Libya Pugh, Michael Chernus, Carter Kojima, Jillian Panlilio, Anna Baryshnikov, Noah Rhodes, Rosa Salazar, Samrat Chakrabarti, Ajay Naidu
Seen on: 13.7.2021

Lisa (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a kindergarten teacher. Her own kids are growing up fast, things with her husband (Michael Chernus) are comfortable, and Lisa takes a poetry classe with Simon (Gael García Bernal) to do something for herself. One day, she hears one of her kindergarteners, Jimmy (Parker Sevak), making up a poem – a poem that speaks of great talent. Lisa starts doing everything in her power to foster his talent.

The Kindergarten Teacher is a strong film with a fantastic Maggie Gyllenhaal, but I do have issues with the ending it gives us. Still, the way to that ending is really good.

The film poster showing Lisa (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and Jimmy (Parker Sevak) sitting dressed up on plastic chairs on a ferry.

The Kindergarten Teacher gives us what very few films do: a female protagonist who makes some really questionable decisions and yet remains likeable, a female anti-hero who doesn’t build on notions on masculinity for her hero-status, quite to the contrary. And it’s only right that Maggie Gyllenhaal is the one who plays her, getting every little bit of nuance out of the character that she could possibly get.

Lisa is frustrated because her own children and herself, actually, are consumers foremost, not creators as she would very much like to be. And she sees that the world isn’t interested in creators anyway. Jimmy’s talents go unrecognized for the most part and definitely unsupported – except for her. Lisa’s approach to rectifying the situation is not only steeped in her privilege as a white, educated woman, but also in a neoliberal mindset that seems more worried about any waste of Jimmy’s talents rather than Jimmy himself.

Lisa (Maggie Gyllenhaal) looking lovingly at Jimmy (Parker Sevak) who is turned away from her.

It’s an interesting point and very well embedded into the narrative, I thought. I read it as very critical (in fact, I expected a reveal at some point about how it turns out that Jimmy is reciting existing poetry, but that never came. The poetry, by the way, is written by Ocean Vuong) – until the very last moment in the film, when even the film seems to arrive at the conclusion that Lisa was right (to a degree) and starts mourning Jimmy’s talent, too – absolutely uninterested in the little child who just went through a traumatic experience. That ending really didn’t sit right with me.

But everything until that point was so good, that I’m willing to look past this to absolutely recommend the film. I will have to seek out the Israeli original film as well, it will be interesting to see the differences between the two.

Lisa (Maggie Gyllenhaal) on the phone, sitting on the steps outside her house.

Summarizing: excellent.

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