Based on the 2014 Israeli film of the same name (originally titled Haganenet) by Nadav Lapid, director Sara Colangelo casts Maggie Gyllenhaal as the eponymous teacher, Lisa, whose life changes when she hears a child in her class recite poetry.
At a crossroads in her own life, Lisa is attending an adult education poetry class lead by charismatic teacher (Gael García Bernal). Her two kids are almost finished high school and she has a contented home life with husband Grant (Michael Chernus). When the child, Jimmy (Parker Sevak), mumbles his first poem, she is immediately aware of its power and quality. It is simple but has a maturity far beyond what could be expected from a five-year-old. Struggling with her own artistic output, Lisa presents the poem to the class as her own, and from there escalates a path where her altruistic championing of a young talent is hopelessly entangled with her own frustrated ambitions.
Gyllenhaal is the mesmerising heart of the film. She encapsulates a person who we both like and revile. She has all the gentle grace that you would expect from a kindergarten teacher, and we can see how that allows her to slowly inveigle her way into Jimmy’s life. We can also see the core of self-delusion and narcissism, or perhaps just midlife desperation, that drives her to step outside acceptable boundaries.
Colangelo allows time for the story to unfold and refrains from being didactic about what is right and wrong. Even up until the very last frame, we are left questioning.
Have you seen this film? Have you seen the original? How do they compare? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.