The Kindergarten Teacher

THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER,  US, 2018 . Starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gael Garcia Bernal, Michael Chernus, Parker Sevak. Directed by Sarah Colangelo.  96 minutes.  Rated M (Mature themes and coarse language)

While The Kindergarten Teacher might be an ordinary enough title for a film, the story here is not what we might have been expecting. This is a remake of an Israeli film which made quite an impact, obviously tempting Hollywood to do an English-language version.

This is a significant role for a significant performance by Maggie Gyllenhaal. Usually is a very poised presence on screen, it is difficult to accept her as a teacher mixing with the littlies. But, credit to her, her performance becomes credible and creditable.

The teacher, Lisa, has been working for many years, her husband also working, teenage children at home with whom she does not always connect. She has probably always connected well with the kindergarten group, able to play with them, gently instruct them, nurture them, her home situation moving her more to her towards the classroom than life at home.

The other complication is that she is an aspiring poet. The difficulty is that she has been aspiring for many years, writing the poems, bringing them to an adult education course, led by Gael Garcia Bernal, who appreciates her presence, encouraging her, but not praising her finished work.

Then, a little boy, Jimmy (Parker Sevak) is heard speaking some verses. Lisa listens, is charmed and amazed by what she hears from a five-year-old. And this begins a serious turn of events, for Jimmy, for Lisa, for some moments of truth (which may be too late).

What is Lisa to do so charmed as she is by Jimmy’s poems? And he continues to create them, the bully innocent as to how fine they are as problems. Lisa takes them to her adult education class, obviously not revealing that they are not hers, the lecturer impressed, their both making a move, sexually.

Jimmy’s father, on the other hand, is one of those men’s men who doesn’t respond to poetry particularly well (or at all) and insists that Jimmy goes to sports practice. And, as a young boy, Jimmy seems oblivious to this tussle between the adults.

What is Lisa to do? She decides to enter Jimmy into a poetry competition, taking him there without the permission of his father, urging him to recite – and his receiving a claim. By this time, Lisa has bypassed support from her husband and children and becomes reckless.

In these years when child protection is so important, harm to children seems more significant. There are other ways of doing harm then sexual abuse and Lisa goes beyond bounds in trying to possess the boy – and it is interesting that Jimmy becomes more alert to this than we might have thought.

So the film is a strong drama about a competent woman who begins to fail, who puts herself into a more than compromising position, all in the name of benefiting the child, but will have to answer for her choices.

Madman                                 Released April 12th

Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.

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