Tag Archives: Maggie Gyllenhaal

TIFF18: The Kindergarten Teacher

Lisa is having a mid-life crisis. No, Lisa (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is having an existential mother fucking emergency. She’s been a kindergarten teacher for 20 years and she’s tired of teaching a curriculum she doesn’t believe in. She feels invisible at home, a mother to grown kids who don’t need her anymore, a wife to a man she doesn’t feel connected to. A continuing education class in poetry only highlights her unrealized potential and stifled creativity.

So Lisa is ripe for a prodigy, and what do you know, she “discovers” one right in her own classroom. Five (and a half) year old and full-time cutie-patootie Jimmy (Parker Sevak) MV5BMTYxODY2NDU5MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDE3MTgyNDM@._V1_composes poetry that is beautiful and eloquent beyond his years. Lisa feels an addictive high when she recites it as her own in poetry class, receiving praise by peers and teacher (Gael  Garcia Bernal) alike. But mostly she just becomes obsessed with this kid, believing she’s the only one who can nurture his talent. Her behaviour becomes increasingly troublesome, though even on the mild end of the spectrum (depriving him of naps, luring him into bathrooms, alone, with candy bribes), I was uncomfortable.

Lisa is a complex character. You’re picking up on that, right? She legitimately believes she’s got a Mozart-level genius on her hands, and also that our current culture crushes creativity. And she’s not wrong, definitely not about one of those things, and maybe not about both. But she believes that gives her the right to overstep her bounds in some pretty major, pretty outrageous ways.

Maggie Gylleenhaal deserves every good word you have to say about her performance. It’s melancholy, human, and desperate. There’s something universal about a woman’s unsatisfied needs. But you don’t quite know where or how far Lisa will take this – it’s just slightly unhinged, which keeps you riveted despite the fact that the film sometimes feels like it’s not quite sure what it should be.

Director Sara Colangelo explores the many facets of her protagonist even when motivations are muddled and compromised. There’s almost a dark comedy running through the veins of this movie, throbbing and daring in a way that’s surprising given it takes place in a kindergarten class. You’ll laugh, you’ll wince, you’ll sympathize, you’ll condemn, but you won’t look away, even when it stumbles, even if it can’t commit. The Kindergarten Teacher offers a confident performance and a fascinating character study.

 

 

Catch The Kindergarten Teacher on Netflix October 12.

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Sherrybaby

Say what you will about Maggie Gyllenhaal, she’s very comfortable showing her tits on camera. Even now that they’re low-hangers and she’s past the age where a bra is obligatory.

Sherry (Gyllenhaal) has just been released from prison and is struggling to reintegrate into society. She’s struggling in a half-way home, looking for work, and trying to rekindle a sherrybaby1900x506relationship with her very young daughter. Sherry is newly clean (thanks, prison!), emotionally stunted, and pretty raw. She’d be a wholly unlikeable character if not for the measured and sympathetic portrayal by Gyllenhaal, who tries inject Sherry with some dimension.

Meanwhile, the relationship between mother and daughter flounders. The little girl has been raised by her aunt and uncle, and her mother is a virtual stranger. Though the daughter is 5 or 6 at most, it’s a struggle to say which is the more mature. Sherry is needy and narcissistic and expects her daughter to respond to her cloying Maggie-in-Sherrybaby-maggie-gyllenhaal-736578_900_602overtures every time she comes calling. Unfortunately, real life doesn’t seem to much up to what she’d been dreaming of in prison.

Writer and director Laurie Collyer doesn’t mince words. This is gritty, unpleasant stuff, and there are no easy answers to be gained here. There are two primary concerns for Sherry, and for those of us watching her: can she regain custody (and for us, perhaps, should she), and can she stay away from the drugs?

I was really riveted by Sherry’s regression. When her father shows up, the way she panders for his attention and affection is uncomfortable, and in direct competition with that of her daughter. It’s sad, and perhaps Collyer tries a little too hard to create a too-inconvenient Maggie-in-Sherrybaby-maggie-gyllenhaal-736557_1000_668checkered past to be responsible for her downward spiral. But there’s real pathos here. In fact, looking back, weighing all of Sherry’s pathologies, the dysfunctional and the desperation, I’m surprised that I didn’t come away feeling that this movie was depressing. Is there a secret vein of hope there? I’m not sure. And I’m not going to call this a great movie, but it strives to be realistic, and you have to admire it for its total abandonment of rose-coloured endings.

 

Frank

Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) is a slightly dorky guy on a beach, free-associating song lyrics, trying to hit on something that sounds like music. Instead he stumbles upon the scene of a suicide attempt, a raving lunatic being hoisted out of the sea. The hypothermic man is taken away by ambulance, leaving his bandmates scratching their heads around their van – how will they play their show tonight without their keyboardist? But wait! Jon plays keyboards! So he shows up that night to a gig and finds that this group isn’t just some unknown indie band, it’s an ultra-unknown and perhaps unknowable avant-guard indie band that’s lead by Frank (Michael frankFassbender), an enigmatic man never seen without his papier-mache head, and Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) a super angry woman with bad haircut and a grudge against her theremin.

Back at work the next day, Jon’s life seems even more dull and meaningless than ever. His latest sandwich is the highlight of his twitter feed. So when his phone rings and it’s the band asking him to join them again, he jumps at the chance. Only this time it’s not for a gig, it’s for an indeterminate recording session in a remote cabin in the woods. At first Jon is elated to be part of Frank’s charismatic genius, believing that Frank can summon untapped corners of Jon’s own musical aptitude, but things are not easy with the music or between the band members. Ever the optimist, Jon gamely decides that this experience will substitute for the traumatic childhood he never had, fuelling and giving direction and “theme” to his songwriting.

Or so he thinks.

This movie never does what you expect it to, even after setting up parameters pretty much right away indicating  that this is not exactly going to follow a straight and narrow path. It’s quirky and weird but also kind of sombre and introspective. It doesn’t hide behind easy choices, and as a device, the papier-mache head actually seems to unmask people’s true feelings rather than obscure them.

Michael Fassbender gives a surprisingly solid performance from behind his huge head.  He plays that aloof, outsider rocker genius thing awfully well (almost as well as Maggie Gyllenhaal does the sour bitch, and that’s saying a lot). But the movie debunks\demystifies the glam-nutbars in a band thing, and Jon is soon learning just what it means to be the only straight one around.