New Netflix film leaves a lukewarm feeling

Photo courtesy of Maximillain Buhn, Wikipedia

The newly released Netflix movie, “The Kindergarten Teacher,” directed by the award-winning Sara Colangelo and based on the 2014 Israeli screenplay by Nadav Lapid left me lukewarm.

The movie is detached from its seemingly upbeat title, and easily confused with the comedic feel-good movie “The Kindergarten Cop.” Title aside, the uncharacteristically dismal streets of the Bronx and nervous introduction sequence quickly establish a serious tone. Colangelo places the viewer in an almost thriller-like apprehension from the start of this chilling drama.

Golden Globe winning Maggie Gyllenhaal gives one of her best performances yet, introducing a whole new perspective to the contemporarily admired “strong female” lead character by exposing the sympathetic side of a chaotic anti-heroine.

Gyllenhaal plays Lisa Spinelli, a seemingly progressive kindergarten teacher and mother — turned good-hearted psychopath. Spinelli seems discontent with her underachieving children, who are more focused on technology and vanity over their intellectual potential, and equally unhappy with her neutral husband.

On a quest to remove the dullness of her daily routine, Spinelli finds solace in an evening poetry class. Her solace quickly turns into irritation when her poems are considered “derivative” by her charming professor (Gael García Bernal).

She seems to have hit the poetic jackpot when “a young Mozart” reveals his talent in her classroom. He recites his strangely advanced poems with rhythmic pacing, ultimately giving off a possessed vibe.

Jimmy is played by Parker Sevak, who’s apparent smallness is repeatedly contrasted by Gyllenhaal's towering presence. Her unsatisfied attitude toward her children and mediocre husband provide reasoning behind her obsession with Jimmy’s supposed intellect.

Jimmy’s babysitter, Becca, spends the most amount of time with Jimmy, revealing the initial signs of her obsession and jealousy. Her desire to mentor this prodigy leads her to unexplainable acts of felony that she believes are based on good-intentions.

The film feels like an exploitation of the T.S. Eliot’s quote, “Most of the evil in this world is done by people with good intentions.” This movie is a poetic reflection of a prosaic lead, and the desire for talent in a talentless word becomes the primary struggle for people facing mid-life-crises. Learning from the film, relenting to insanity may not be good response to a mid-life crisis, maybe a tattoo would be better.

Not only is the viewer confused by the unclear motives of Lisa’s strange behaviors, Colangelo creates ambiguity as a theme in this film with her use of silence and mysterious close up shots. These scenes create the feeling of something greater but without any context, leaves the viewer unsatisfied and confused.

Overall, this film is an uncompromising portrayal of adolescent exploitation and an unforgiving display of intellectual greed. This potential movie about childhood brilliance becomes one regarding a discontented mother who wants another chance at youthful adoration. Her obsession is not well-developed, and leaving too many open plot points may seem poetic, but it's also just downright annoying.

Although a great picture for film majors for its acting and cinematography, the film’s unrelenting tension is never alleviated, revealing an unfulfilling outcome for the average Netflix connoisseur.

3 stars