Starring: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Parker Sevak, Michael Chernus
Director: Sara Colangelo
Running Time: 93 mins
The Kindergarten Teacher is an American film about a woman who notices one of her young pupils’ talent for poetry, beginning to obsess over him as she tries to let him blossom and exercise his incredible ability.
This is a fascinating film, although not one that immediately appears as such. The Kindergarten Teacher is a patient and slow-moving watch, but it’s one that creates an enthralling tension beneath the surface, as we see rather bizarre but fairly innocent behaviour get more and more out of hand, furthered by a riveting social perspective that adds a brilliant emotional depth to the main characters.
So, the main thing to know is that if you watch The Kindergarten Teacher, it’s not a film that will come to you in the first ten minutes. In fact, it’s all a little strange over the course of the first act, as we see Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character being bizarrely obsessed with a five year old boy, yet with the story presenting it as if there’s nothing abnormal about what’s going on.
However, the story really does come good in the latter stages (which I will get into), but that doesn’t mean that it’s a boring watch early on either.
Above all, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s performance is what makes The Kindergarten Teacher work right the way through, as she gives a down-to-earth and thoroughly convincing portrayal of a clearly kind-hearted woman, yet is able to subtly create a certain tension and unpredictability about her over the course of the first act – getting a little too close to her student, and coming out with rather uncharacteristic hippie-esque soundbites – something that really intrigued me as her character’s true nature becomes clear throughout.
It’s an undoubtedly excellent performance, and Gyllenhaal gives it the ambiguity and tension that the film really needs to make its central themes work.
Now, while that tension and uncertainty grows and grows as the teacher’s behaviour becomes ever more bizarre, the film introduces some really fascinating central ideas that lend a stunning emotional depth to our main character, as well as the story as a whole.
At first, you’re left a little bemused as to why this woman is acting in such a strange way, but there’s a riveting peeling back of the layers throughout that show the stress and disappointment in her own life that has eventually led her to this point.
In that, the film has a little bit of a commentary on the nature of mid-life crises, while also bringing the widely relatable notion of feeling disappointed at your own failures, as we see a woman with ambition and a wider appreciation for the world, and yet has come up short time and time again, further frustrated by the rest of the world’s seeming apathy towards the finer things of life, as she sees her own failings mirrored in the potential future of a young boy.
What’s even more interesting about those central themes, however, is that they can be interpreted in a variety of ways, largely depending on how optimistic or pessimistic you are towards the nature of art and poetry, as well as your own personal take on ambitions and purpose in life in general.
As a result, The Kindergarten Teacher isn’t a film that spoonfeeds you with a narrative showing our main character as simply good or bad, but instead makes you think with a more ambiguous portrayal, leaving you to fall back on your own interpretations to make a judgment of your own, something that I found absolutely fascinating and incredibly rewarding come the end of the film.
Overall, I was really rather impressed by The Kindergarten Teacher. It starts off in bizarre fashion, and although its main thematic core doesn’t really come about until about halfway, there’s a riveting dramatic tension that bubbles right from the start thanks to Maggie Gyllenhaal’s fantastic performance, culminating in a drama that’s both enthralling, and really makes you think, which is why I’m giving this a 7.7.