While bigscreen superheroes may stoke our fantasies of being something greater than we are, seeing more empathetic characters in that same space allows for an amazing amount of intimacy and discomfort. Lisa Spinelli is just such a character — a middle-aged kindergarten teacher finding little satisfaction in her well-worn routine, both at work and at home. She has a yearning for something that’s just beyond her reach: a husband who might understand her intellectual restlessness; kids who might grow up to be radical geniuses; and a hidden talent that might emerge in her continuing-education poetry class. Little does she know that the amalgamation of these desires will manifest in the form of one of her students: Jimmy, who mechanically composes worldly poems whenever the mood strikes him. Lisa, seeing this as her superhero moment, takes Jimmy under her wing — but her enthusiasm for his innate abilities slowly transforms into obsession.
As played, with great aplomb, by Maggie Gyllenhaal, Lisa is an unexceptional woman who reacts to the phenomena of Jimmy not with the superhuman ethics with which many movies imbue their characters, but with a far more unidealized emotional schism that blurs her judgment.
Sara Colangelo’s The Kindergarten Teacher, a prudent remake of a 2014 Israeli movie by the same name, is refreshingly antithetical to Hollywood’s status quo. The film dives deep into Lisa’s character — her alienation and disillusionment, but also her zeal and composure. As played, with great aplomb, by Maggie Gyllenhaal, Lisa is an unexceptional woman who reacts to the phenomena of Jimmy not with the superhuman ethics with which many movies imbue their characters, but with a far more unidealized emotional schism that blurs her judgment. Jimmy renews Lisa’s sense of purpose, and her desperation for that purpose causes her to lose sight of everything else. She tries to enlist others in her cause — Jimmy’s busy father and an earnest poetry teacher — but her determination to treat Jimmy as a modern day Mozart falls on deaf ears. As things slowly unravel between Jimmy and Lisa, The Kindergarten Teacher serves as a reminder that lines between right and wrong, hero and villain, are not as neat as most movies would have us believe.
You can currently stream Sara Colangelo’s The Kindergarten Teacher on Netflix.