January 21, 2019

The Disturbing World of "The Kindergarten Teacher"

“There are very few actors who can credibly convey intellectual desperation, but Maggie Gyllenhaal is one of them. In “The Kindergarten Teacher,” a riveting remake of Nadav Lapid’s 2015 Israeli drama of the same name, she plays Lisa, a Staten Island kindergarten teacher in her 40s whose serene existence hides a gnawing hunger for a life filled with art and literature.

An evening poetry-writing class only reveals her own mediocre talent, no matter how encouraging her charming instructor (Gael García Bernal). Her husband (Michael Chernus) is supportive but floored by her frustration, her teenage children buried in their own screens and schedules. Then, one day, a little boy in her class delivers, trance-like, a few lines of startlingly evocative verse. Believing him a prodigy — an awareness of the difference between poets and pretenders is both her gift and her curse — Lisa scribbles down his words as if delivered by a seer.

Fluidly capturing the trajectory of a ruinous obsession, the writer and director, Sara Colangelo, skillfully fudges the line between mentoring and manipulation, and between nurturing talent and appropriating it. Suffusing each scene with an insinuating, prickly tension, she remains ruthlessly committed to her screw-tightening tone, offering the viewer no comforting moral escape hatch.”

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