The Kindergarten Teacher

 

starstarstarhalf

 


film not seen on our screens prompts an unexpected remake.

 
Kindergarten Teacher

Maggie Gyllenhaal and Parker Sevak

 

Every so often a highly praised foreign language film of wide appeal appears, one that immediately leads one to anticipate that in time there will be a Hollywood remake. The film The Kindergarten Teacher now brought to us by writer/director Sara Colangelo is indeed an American remake, but it's not from a major Hollywood studio and the original film on which it is based, the 2014 Haganenet from the Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid, did not even gain a cinema release here. However, one notes that the actress Maggie Gyllenhaal is one of the producers and the title role in this new version, that of Lina Spinelli, offers her the opportunity to give one of her best performances.

 

Relocating the story to America, the film introduces us to Lina and her family living in New York's Staten Island. Lina, now in her forties, is a dedicated teacher and has been for twenty years or so. She is married to Grant (Michael Chernus) and has two children intent on future plans, Lainey (Daisy Tahan) and Josh (Sam Jules). But the child on whom Lina is now focussed is five-year-old Jimmy Roy (Parker Sevak). He is one of her kindergarten group where he stands out because of a gift for poetry that is remarkable for one of his age. The boy's father (Ajay Naidu) may not appreciate this, but Lina is determined to treat the boy as a prodigy and in time this becomes her overwhelming obsession.

 

Such a situation could have been the basis of a story of a warm-hearted kind centred on the teacher-child relationship. However, The Kindergarten Teacher is something else. We soon realise that this is a character study of a woman who feels unfulfilled because, admiring the arts and even now attending classes given by a poet (Gael García Bernal), she herself has had a conventional life as a teacher, wife and mother while persuading herself that she should have made a career as a published poet. This is established indirectly through Lina's criticism of her children for being typical of our times in not appreciating things artistic and, by mentoring Jimmy Ray, she is attempting to find in him a substitute son who, with his budding poetic gifts, represents the child she would have liked to have had.

 

This makes for a decidedly unusual and effective portrait of a mid-life crisis and Gyllenhaal at its heart is superb. Nevertheless, The Kindergarten Teacher is one of those films that doesn't fully satisfy in its later stages. It does establish Lina's obsession with Jimmy Ray as something that could make her act irresponsibly and unwisely and we believe in that, but even so the late plot developments never quite convince: it feels as though finding the most telling conclusion had defeated the writer, Lapid as much as Colangelo presumably. In addition, bringing in an affair between Gyllenhaal and Bernal (the latter wasted in a subsidiary role) seems perfunctory. By its close, The Kindergarten Teacher satisfies less than one had expected, but much of it is very good indeed and Gyllenhaal's performance should not be missed.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gael García Bernal, Michael Chernus, Parker Sevak, Sam Jules, Daisy Tahan, Ajay Naidu, Samrat Chakrabarti.

 

Dir Sara Colangelo, Pro Talia Kleinhendler, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Trudie Styler, Osnat Handelsman-Keren and Celine Rattray, Screenplay Sara Colangelo, based on the screenplay by Nadav Lapid, Ph Pepe Avila del Pino, Pro Des Mary Lena Colston, Ed Lee Percy and Marc Vives, Music Asher Goldschmidt, Costumes Vanessa Porter.

 

Pie Films/Liner Films/Maven Pictures/PaperChase Films/Pia Pressure-Thunderbird Releasing.
97 mins. US. 2018. Rel: 8 March 2019. Cert. 12A.