Rolling Stone called Maggie Gyllenhaal’s performance in The Kindergarten Teacher the “most impressive work she’s ever done", so here she is, dressed like a winner for the international premiere of the film in Toronto last night. I love this black off-the-shoulder Oscar de la Renta dress with the sequined disco bows falling lower on the arm. Also, her skin really glows in person. She looks about ten years younger than she is.
But the praise for her performance? It’s well deserved. The movie is great, and it only works because of Maggie. In the film, Maggie plays Lisa Spinelli (a.k.a. Mrs. Spinelli), a frustrated creative and kindergarten teacher who attends poetry classes at night all while trying to stay connected to her teenage kids. Soon, she takes an unusual amount of interest in the success of one of her five-year-old students, whom she believes to be the next Mozart (of poetry). She blurs all boundaries to nurture Jimmy’s (Parker Sevak) prodigal talent, but the only reason why the film succeeds is because the audience roots for Lisa, even though they know she is taking her attentiveness too far. Her cause is extreme and borderline parasitic, but you feel for her, because you are sympathetic to the lack of recognition from her artistic peers, and her own creative and emotional stifling in her home life.
The Kindergarten Teacher is part-thriller, part-drama. Based on a 2014 Israeli movie of the same name, writer-director Sara Colangelo’s version loses some of the original’s political commentary to focus more on this abnormal teacher-student relationship and a woman trying to find her voice through misguided mentorship. Netflix bought the film at Sundance, and it starts streaming on October 12. As for whether it’s the “most impressive work she’s ever done?” I’m partial to Secretary. But this is certainly the most immersive work Maggie’s done yet. And it must have been quite collaborative, since Sara won the Best Director prize at Sundance, and it's also the first film Maggie’s ever produced. Plus on-set, apparently some of the kids in her classroom only knew Maggie as Mrs. Spinelli, not as an actress, though Sara told us in the lounge that that wasn’t entirely true, since some of the “students” would say things like “I know you from Batman!” to her.
The Kindergarten Teacher seems like the type of movie that's designed for those “Top 10 Underrated Performances of the Year” or “Top 10 Performances You Missed” lists you typically see circulating around the middle of awards season. Besides, with Alfonso Cuaron's Roma in the Best Picture mix (and a crowded Best Actress race), it's unlikely the Academy will want to recognize Netflix more than once. But hopefully this movie will get more love from the critics, beyond the Indie Spirits. And if it does, we know Maggie will bring the fashion.
#TheKindergartenTeacher’s #MaggieGyllenhaal and writer-director, #SaraColangelo have a super fun chat with @stayfabulous about their new film! 😍🎬 Stay updated with all things #TIFF18 at https://t.co/mqoCD6f0xQ! #etalk ✨ pic.twitter.com/FvJYE42gYc— etalk (@etalkCTV) September 13, 2018