In The Kindergarten Teacher, which was shown as the closing film at this year’s Foyle Film Festival, Maggie Gyllenhall plays Lisa Spinelli a thirty something kindergarten teacher who is disillusioned with family life and her work. Then in class she notices that an otherwise quiet and unassuming boy in her class by the name of Jimmy is particularly good at writing poems. The problem is that many of these poems come sporadically and out of the blue. Another problem is that no-one seems to be nurturing the boy’s talent at home because his mother is seemingly absent, his father spends next to no time with him because he is busy with his work and his nanny fails to notice the significance of what the child is saying. Alongside her day job Lisa takes a night class in creative writing. As Lisa nurtures Jimmy’s talent more and more it becomes unclear whether Lisa Spinelli is doing so for his benefit or her own. It is only once it becomes clear that Lisa is trying to nurture Jimmy’s talent for his own sake that things turn against her. Part of the charm of The Kindergarten Teacher is that the classroom in which it is set almost becomes a character in its own right. In many of the scenes that are without any, or very little, dialogue you can almost hear Sara Colangelo and Nadav Lapid’s screenplay being read out loud to the audience.
Maggie Gyllenhall is excellent as Lisa Spinelli who you’re never quite sure of the motivation of, displaying characteristics of both light and shadow. Also of note is young Parker Sevak who while still young at five years old, is a wise old head on young shoulders. You can’t help but feel however that this is a talent best left out of the spotlight and allowed to mature, returning in about twenty years from now to reactions of “oh yeah, that was him”.
The Kindergarten Teacher goes on general release in March