So my Halloween entry this year is not conventional in terms of horror (I don’t know why I intimated “this year”; I’ve never done a Halloween post before) that is, unless you are a parent of a gifted child. (That’s not true. I know exactly why I intimated. I’m being conversational. Anyway…) If you are–a parent of a gifted child–prepare to be terrified.
I would like to think that my children are gifted…they are grown…
My youngest qualifies, I’m quite certain. She’s a classically trained artist. She did a portrait of her hero, Lee Van Cleef, as the character “the bad” of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, that is so good it made me weep. She captured the hardness in his eyes and his bird of prey-like nostrils and septum exquisitely. (She rolls her eyes when I say it’s my favorite. “I did that years ago,” she says.)
My oldest is a gifted arguer. She would have been a great debate coach, or possibly, even a lawyer. She’s certainly smart enough. For instance, she keeps me up to date on all the things that I say that nobody’s saying anymore. Yeah, she’s still doing that…but now it’s because what I say is so horrifically offensive as opposed to just being “uncool”. She’s a stay at home wife (and, I hope, a soon to be mother.)
So yes, both of my children are gifted.
But I digress.
In director Sara Colongelo’s 2018 drama, The Kindergarten Teacher, Lisa Spinelli (Maggie Gylenhaul) fits the “those who can’t do teach” trope to a T–within her own mind. And that’s a tragic thing, because when we meet her she is interacting with her charges so effortlessly, so gloriously that it is born to her–she, the sublime guide to a magical, mystical world where children imbibe their senses with paint, with songs, with shapes. With wonder and laughter, too.
As Ms. Spinelli, the teacher, Lisa does not dictate knowledge, she invites it in. Fittingly, she loves poetry and is a perfect judge of it, though sadly, unbeknownst to her, she is an example of it too.
Lisa takes an evening poetry appreciation class. There, her poems are dissected and deemed unremarkable by a tediously abstruse professor (Gael Garcia Burnal) a diagnoses she mercurially expects and accepts.
At home Lisa is happy enough with her chubby hubby, Grant (Michael Chernus) and their teenage children Josh and Lainie–it’s just that none of them care to share the lens that she sees the world through. To be fair, Grant makes an attempt to. It is not lost to him that Lisa is way hotter than he is, but that’s not why he indulges; it is his nature. And he loves her.
Their son, Josh, a handsome athletic senior who wants to join the Marine Corps, loves her too, as does daughter Lainie, a whip smart honor student, seemingly destined for the Fortune 500. Their feelings, clearly evident but sometimes selfishly, normally, expressed, are inconsequential to their mother. They keep their noses in their phones and prefer the company of their peers, behaviors that Grant sees as typical, which is precisely why Lisa finds them so offensive.
One day, she observes a student walking back and forth, composing verse:
Anna is beautiful. Beautiful enough for me.
The sun hits her yellow house. It is almost like a sign from God.
The student is hers, a smallish boy with pensive, yet intrepid black eyes. His name is Jimmy. He is already her favorite.
Enamored, Lisa feverishly jots down what he recites. She presents it to her poetry class as her own, not to steal it, but to test its greatness. The professor and the class love it. She repeats the process with a another of Jimmy’s poems, The Bull. It too, is enthusiastically received.
Lisa draws nearer to Jimmy, enveloping him in her powerful wings. She steals him away to the bathroom where she prods him to expound upon all he sees. She gives him her cell phone number and tells him to call her Lisa.
Meanwhile, Meghan, the teacher’s assistant, notices Lisa’s attempts to isolate Jimmy. She is wary, but unsure; Lisa is discreet.
Then the nanny discloses that Jimmy’s father, a successful nightclub entrepreneur, has enrolled him in T-ball. Lisa is convinced that the boy’s artistry will be stamped out, if not for the sake of athletics then for commerce. She connives permission from the father for some alone time with Jimmy.
The Kindergarten Teacher is an elegant study in the intrusion of obsession, by way of depression, in an otherwise beautiful and enigmatic psyche. Be warned. It will steal you.