Of course any production starring Maggie Gyllenhaal is worthy of consideration because she is a great actor and has been since her breakout performance in Secretary.
Her Deuce (which she produced) was one of the great TV series of recent years and she really goes for it in whatever she does. That invariably includes getting naked and she doesn’t let us down in that respect here either.
It’s a star vehicle for Gyllenhaal who plays Lisa, a Kindergarten teacher who has a growing up family that are typical millennials; caught up in their own teenage angst and disengaged from Mom. Her husband is a good soul (a nice performance by Michael Chernus), but he’s become a comfortable home bird who’s get up and go has got up and gone.
So the highlight of her week is her Tuesday night poetry class in which her hunky Spanish tutor likes her, but not her poetry.
It’s a drab life, although clearly Lisa is a good and dedicated teacher.
So imagine her surprise when a five year old pupil, Jimmy, (a pretty wooden, frankly pretty rubbish, performance by Parker Sevak – this is no McCualey Culkin in the making) recites a poem he has created. She is transfixed and appropriates it for herself and reads it at her poetry class.
Her fellow students and tutor are impressed with the complexity and quality of her creation and so begins a process where she nurtures Jimmy’s talent and champions his talent. She does it for him, not for her despite her initial subterfuge at poetry class.
It’s lovingly directed (female director Sara Colangelo) and is achingly slowly developed as a story.
I didn’t see the twist coming in Act Three. A twist that draws your breath and makes for a truly epic (although quietly so) denouement. It takes us into areas of such taboo that escalates the story from a delightful study in teacher/student connection into something way more challenging but it is handled deftly and sympathetically despite the horror of what is unfolding in front of us.
This is an intelligent movie with a commanding performance by Gyllenhaal. She copes effortlessly with the ‘wooden’ Jimmy and creates a character that you are deeply sympathetic with, and that makes the denouement all the more shocking and sad.