Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 2018. Pie Films, Farcaster Films, Imagination Park Entertainment, Liner Films, Manhattan Productions, Maven Pictures, PaperChase Films, Pia Pressure, Piapressure, Studio Mao. Screenplay by Sara Colangelo, based on a screenplay by Nadav Lapid. Cinematography by Pepe Avila del Pino. Produced by Maggie Gyllenhaal, Osnat Handelsman-Keren, Talia Kleinhendler, Celine Rattray, Trudie Styler. Music by Asher Goldschmidt. Production Design by Mary Lena Colston. Costume Design by Vanessa Porter. Film Editing by Lee Percy, Marc Vives. Toronto International Film Festival 2018.
Maggie Gyllenhaal gives her boldest and most disturbing performance yet as a kindergarten teacher struggling with her sense of life’s meaning. Taking a poetry-writing class in her free time, she’s frustrated by how derivative her own expressions of inspiration are, while at home her teenaged children have no interest in her input on the direction of their lives. All her woes come into focus when she notices that a little boy in her class named Jimmy has a gift for writing poetry straight out of his head, an infant Verena Tarrant who composes his beautiful lines almost as if they are supernaturally inspired. Determined to make sure that his gift is not ignored, Gyllenhaal tries to get the importance of Jimmy’s gift across to his nanny, then his uncle and overworked single father, but their reactions are not to her liking. She presents Jimmy’s work in her poetry class and finds out that the work is received with extreme enthusiasm by her teacher (Gael Garcia Bernal) and fellow students but she still meets with resistance from the boy’s family about exposing him to the world. Taking the matter into her own hands, Gyllenhaal begins to manipulate situations and cross boundaries that eventually make it clear that what’s really happening is less about doing what’s right for the boy and more about her her own needs: is what we call conviction actually inspiration to help the world or is there a point at which you’re just making up for what is missing in your life? This film teases the issue with a brilliantly calibrated sense of unease until the explosive ending that takes its quiet agony into thriller territory, with Gyllenhaal keeping the human element of her character’s worst choices on screen the entire time thanks to her sensitive and complex work.