The Kindergarten Teacher (3 stars)

The Kindergarten Teacher

Maggie Gyllenhaal is superb in this intriguing drama from Sara Colangelo

Writer-director Sara Colangelo (Little Accidents) elicits a disturbing performance from Maggie Gyllenhaal in this New York-set remake of the 2014 Israeli film by Nadav Lapid. While not widely seen, Lapid's film had a penetrating conceit: at what point does a teacher's interest in a pupil go too far? The idea could have taken a Fatal Attraction-esque turn in its transfer to America, and it's to Colangelo and Gyllenhaal's credit that The Kindergarten Teacher stays grounded even as its protagonist flies off the rails.

Lisa Spinelli (Gyllenhaal) is the titular educator – a downtrodden woman with a Staten Island-based family she struggles to relate to. Lisa takes a poetry class in Manhattan but her work doesn't impress her peers or tutor Simon (Gael García Bernal). When one of her 5-year-old students, Jimmy (Parker Sevak), creates poems of his own, Lisa writes them down and passes them off as her work. But Jimmy's family come to distrust Lisa and question her interest in him.

The opening of Colangelo's film skilfully evokes the gentle charms of pre-school teaching, and it's almost a shame when the plot starts to intrude. It's never fully explained where the poems come from, the focus is specifically on Lisa's obsession and how it spirals out of control. Whether she's justified in her actions is the issue; the film builds to a brief, almost silent coda that makes the filmmakers' agenda clear. The punchline's power, however, narrows rather than expands the potential meaning; despite sensitive direction and a nervy turn from Gyllenhaal, The Kindergarten Teacher doesn't really do enough to deliver a satisfying pay-off on a well-developed and intriguing situation.

Selected release from Fri 8 Mar.

The Kindergarten Teacher

  • 3 stars
  • 2018
  • USA
  • 1h 36min
  • Directed by: Sara Colangelo
  • Cast: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gael García Bernal, Ato Blankson-Wood

Lisa (Gyllenhaal) is a downtrodden kindergarten teacher who passes off the poems of one of her students as her own. This remake of a 2014 Israeli film stays grounded but it doesn’t have a satisfying enough payoff to its well-developed and intriguing situation.