January 30, 2019 – The cover art and title of this film makes it look like a horror or slasher film, but it is actually an effective drama with some suspense.
Maggie Gyllenhaal (“The Dark Knight”) stars as Lisa Spinelli, a kindergarten teacher, who discovers a child prodigy in her classroom, Jimmy Roy (played by Parker Sevak). She overhears Jimmy as he walks, trance-like, back and forth, in the classroom alone, reciting a poem he has composed, seemingly on the spot:
Lisa is astonished at the sophistication and imagination shown in this poem, composed by a boy only five and a half years of age. She is taking poetry classes at night from Simon (Gael García Bernal of “Neruda”) and she reads Jimmy's poem in front of the next poetry class as if she had written it herself, and gets complimented for it. She also gets more attention from Simon, who had not noticed her before. He thought her previous attempts at poetry were fairly ordinary.
Lisa enjoys the attention from Simon and the other poetry students. She basks in the reflected glow of Jimmy's poetry, and determines to capture as many of Jimmy's poems as she can. His poems, which are spoken spontaneously, have to be captured on the spot. She arranges to babysit for Jimmy and starts to tutor him privately.
Lisa talks to Jimmy's father, Nikhil (Ajay Naidu) about Jimmy's potential as a poet, but Nikhil is not impressed by intellectuals. He is a businessman, and he wants Jimmy brought up as a normal boy, learning more practical skills. Lisa suggests having Jimmy recite his poems at an upcoming event, but Nikhil refuses to allow Jimmy to go since the timing of the reading conflicts with Jimmy's little league baseball game.
Lisa takes him to the poetry reading anyway, where Jimmy recites his poems. They are well received. Lisa is heartbroken at the poetry reading when she discovers that the Anna in Jimmy's poem refers not to her, but to her kindergarten teaching assistant, Meghan (Anna Baryshnikov of “Manchester by the Sea”).
Somehow, Lisa escapes serious trouble for essentially kidnapping the boy by taking him to the poetry reading. She does get into some trouble, of course. Nikhil is furious and fires her as a babysitter and removes Jimmy from Lisa's kindergarten. Simon, who is having an affair with Lisa, bans her from poetry class when he finds out she is stealing Jimmy's poems and presenting them as her own.
Lisa is unable to leave Jimmy alone, however, and follows Nikhil to find out where Jimmy is going to kindergarten. It is clear that her obsession with Jimmy has reached an unhealthy level. She becomes more withdrawn from her own family. Her own children do not share her love of intellectual pursuits. She becomes increasingly alienated and alone in a culture that favors Instagram photos over fine photography and comic books over great literature.
In the end, she takes a final, desperate, crazy action in an attempt to hang on to Jimmy. This is a tour de force performance by Maggie Gyllenhaal and a fine effort by writer-director Sara Colangelo (“Little Accidents”). It is a haunting portrait of a woman seeking love and recognition in ways that are increasingly disconnected from reality. This film rates a B.
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