Based on a 2014 Israeli film, The Kindergarten Teacher follows Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Lisa Spinelli as she begins to take an often disturbingly keen interest in a talented young student (Parker Sevak’s Jimmy) – with the movie detailing Lisa’s day-to-day exploits both at school and at home (where she’s trapped in a stale marriage and saddled with two utterly disinterested teenagers). Filmmaker Sara Colangelo delivers an exceedingly, sometimes excessively slow drama that benefits substantially from Gyllenhaal’s commanding lead performance, as the actress certainly manages to infuse her character with an authentic, lived-in feel that remains a consistent highlight – and yet it’s clear, to a progressive degree, that The Kindergarten Teacher‘s lackadaisical vibe unfortunately tends to hold the viewer at arms length throughout. Colangelo’s unapologetically subdued approach to her own screenplay undoubtedly plays a significant role in the picture’s middling atmosphere, as there’s just never a point at which one is able to wholeheartedly embrace the sometimes punishingly slow narrative. There’s little doubt, however, that the film does manage to paint a fairly evocative portrait of a deeply miserable middle-aged woman, and it’s clear, too, that the question of whether Lisa’s interest in Jimmy is entirely self-serving or if she does care about him to a small degree keeps things interesting. And although the picture’s tense final stretch does explain and justify much of what precedes it, The Kindergarten Teacher has long-since confirmed its place as a thoroughly well-acted yet distressingly uninvolving little drama.
** out of ****