A kindergarten teacher becomes dangerously obsessed with a student she believes to be gifted as a poet.
A Stunning Lead Performance;
If you’ve seen this, you’ll chuckle at the irony of writing a haiku for this review. If not, you’ll just have to trust me. Full disclosure, there is some work of Maggie Gyllenhaal’s that I haven’t seen (most notably Secretary), so my prose may warrant caution, but this is the best acting job I have ever seen her deliver. It is absolutely brilliant the way she is able to say so much by doing so little and help us understand the core of what drives her character to make such head-scratching (and frankly dangerous) decisions. She is, for all intents and purposes, a stalker, but one whose victim doesn’t view her as such because he’s too young to understand the concept (or perhaps he’s just not letting it on, as he is clearly a cut above the rest of his age group, mentally). But even as such, she’s able to convey…something for us to grab ahold of. Sympathy isn’t the correct word, because the vast majority of sane adults would never go to these lengths, but we do gain some understanding, even while we squirm in our seats. In any other hands, I likely would have enjoyed the film far less, but she is an absolute tour de force, a hurricane of silent emotion sweeping us under in the storm surge. A lot of people, especially in this 40ish age range, can understand the feeling of being lost in the world, largely ignored and made to feel like non-factors. Your kids move on and don’t need you, your spouse is aloof, you aren’t able to fulfill your desires, be they professional, personal or artistic. None of these are excuses, but in context you can at least comprehend her fractured mindset. Parker Sevak is great as Jimmy, showing equal parts wonder and vulnerability, unaware of how impactful his poetic gift has the power to become.
The story is tight and the pacing is effective. Colangelo, as writer and director, fully understands her characters and their world. Lisa is often shot very effectively at the edge of wide frames, a great tool for showing her sense of an outsider that can’t seem to find a place to belong. The only issue I had with the script is that there are some ideas that are grazed, but never mind to their full extent. And while it is clearly meant to showcase Lisa’s sole perspective, I wish we had more scenes from Jimmy’s level, to see some of the big world that these big ideas are emanating from. Jimmy has a fresh voice in the film and it would have done the movie well to explore it further.
Nature vs nurture is a central theme, as Lisa wants nothing more than to see Jimmy’s incredible gift nurtured into growth. She sees the natural world as one that will crush his creative spark and treats him as though he is older and more mature than he actually is. The problem is that she sees his gift as her responsibility to bring out and share with the world. As with many parents, she seems to view herself as a failure on some level and whether she admits it or not, she is seeking validation through others. Parents often attempt to live vicariously through their children, but when that child belongs to someone else, lines have been irreparably crossed.