I have always found Maggie Gyllenhaal to be an exceptional actress and in this film her talents are fully on display. She plays Lisa Spinelli who by day is a kindergarten teacher and at home lives with her husband and two teenage children.
While Lisa is keen on cultural activities her family show no interest at all and, in fact, day and night Lisa is alone. Except for just one night each week when she attends the poetry class where handsome teacher Simon (Gael Garcia Bernal) is unimpressed with her compositions.
Quite by chance Lisa hears one of her little pupils reciting a poem of his own composition. She deems Jimmy (Parker Sevak) aged five and a half to be exceptionally gifted and sets about nurturing and later promoting his talent. At one point, Lisa presents Jimmy’s poems as her own at the poetry class and Simon and his other students are most impressed. She also has an affair with Simon. But he is angry when Lisa gets Jimmy to perform to a group of poetry lovers. Jimmy’s parents are not interested in their son’s poetry reciting and Maggie becomes more and more obsessed with taking over his life.
Partly a psychological drama and partly the story of a woman in melt-down, this is an unusual film which doesn’t really fit any one genre. The child actor, Parker Sevak is terrific as Jimmy – director Sara Colangelo, who also wrote the screenplay based on an Israeli film, has managed to get a truthful-seeming performance out of her small star. Gyllenhaal makes us all believe in her teacher. The scenes in the classroom with the whole class of young children are well directed and performed while the scenes where Maggie takes Jimmy aside to personally coach him are chilling in their verisimilitude.
The film begins with the teacher merely overstepping the mark, then moves on to a much darker tale as she pushes the talented young lad forward. The movie deserves to be watched and listened to very carefully!