Running time: 1h 36min
Directed by Sara Colangelo
Written by Sara Colangelo, Nadav Lapid
Starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gael García Bernal, Ato Blankson-Wood
The Kindergarten Teacher is an artistic psychological thriller/drama where a kindergarten teacher (duh) discovers one of her young students is a blossoming genius poet. No one else seems to quite appreciate the boy’s talents, greatly frustrating her and eventually leading her down a dangerous path. The film relies heavily on Maggie Gyllenhaal, being mostly a character study of this troubled and increasingly exasperated woman. As it progresses, the story gets more and more crazy as the lead character gradually loses her inhibitions and respect for laws and boundaries.
The boy who plays the young poet does a good job in a demanding role for someone his age. No one else in the cast stands out, and their characters are fairly uninteresting, seemingly there just to facilitate the story happening. That is, however, not a big problem since the film is about Gyllenhaal’s fixation on and weird relationship with the boy. The bigger problem is that Gyllenhaal, while not being bad, in my opinion does not do anything spectacular with her role. I feel that a film like this, which is so focused on one character, needs a great performance or great charisma to carry it. I will also mention that, for whatever reason, her breasts and other naughty bits are on display a few times too many for it to not become a bit comical. I generally do not have a problem with displays such as this, but I just wonder what the point of it was in this movie. There must be people around who enjoy watching her naked body, but I cannot see that being big draw for this movie. Now, that was a bit harsh, but I just do not see the point of it. Maybe she just likes showing off. In any case, it felt unnecessary and jarring, and, as I already said, slightly comical. The Kindergarten Teacher is not an “erotic thriller”, but maybe it wanted to be, just a little bit. But let us move on.
I feel that the script does not sufficiently show enough of why Gyllenhaal’s character goes so bonkers. It suggests that she is unhappy with how her life is going, and how she is failing her aspirations in the poetry class she is taking. I suppose that, despite her best attempts, she is doomed to mediocrity, an uneventful life void of greatness, which hits her hard as she realizes this young boy is so much more talented than she could ever hope to be. And this contributes to her mental downfall. The fact that a film (or a book) does not spell everything out is not necessarily a bad thing, leaving something to the imagination of the viewer, but I feel like in this case some more explanation was warranted. It did not seem like her life was unhappy or unsatisfying enough to justify her later insanity. And as stated earlier, Gyllenhaal’s performance does not quite carry this otherwise mediocre movie to greater heights.
I could make the unfair comparison to Taxi Driver (1976), where Robert De Niro gives a much better and more interesting performance as someone who becomes more and more unhinged. Of course, every single aspect of Taxi Driver is superior to The Kindergarten Teacher, which does try very hard to be a thought-provoking artistic film, but ultimately fails. But I should give the film credit for the attempt.
The Kindergarten Teacher is not particularly entertaining, interesting, or enjoyable, but it is an adequate movie. I was not always able to take the events of the film seriously, so it veered a bit into the realm of unintentional comedy, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. At least it got a few laughs out of me, which is more than some comedies ever achieve. One might enjoy this more than I did, at least if one is a fan of Maggie Gyllenhaal or likes films such as this in general.
Rating: 5.0 / 10
Times I had seen this film prior to this viewing: 0
Would I want to rewatch this film? Probably not