Sara Colangelo (director)
08 March 2019 (released)
06 March 2019
Liza Spinelli (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a mother and a kindergarten teacher living a humdrum life. To escape she attends evening classes to study and write poetry. She is however not the most gifted of pupils and her teacher Simon (Gael Garica Marquez) is not slow in coming forward about her shortcomings.
She takes this on the chin but at the kindergarten where she teaches, Liza chances upon Jimmy Roy (Parker Sevak) who while seemingly speaking to himself, is actually composing poetry, the quality and insight of which she can only dream of. Sensing an opportunity she takes one of his poems and presents it to the class, as her own, to great acclaim, and some surprise.
Now Jimmy is picked up every day by his babysitter Becca (Rosa Salazar). Becca is a little flaky but has noticed Jimmy’s reciting and agrees to write them down for Liza. However this isn’t enough and Liza gives Jimmy her number asking him to call her whenever he is inspired.
As ‘Liza’s’ poetry becomes more interesting so Simon takes more of interest in her, with one thing leading to another! Not exactly guilty but feeling it’s time to do the right thing Liza naively takes Jimmy to a poetry reading in Manhattan with the expected results.
Strewn through this is Liza’s relationship with her children who have all but outstripped her intellectually as her daughter Laine (Daisy Tahan) savagely tells her at party one day.
Liza’s attempts to get Jimmy’s father to take him seriously as a poet go too far and he takes Jimmy to another kindergarten. At this her self-delusion, mental frailty and obsession fuse causing her to throw any judgement out of the window.
This is a study of a complicated person struggling with everyday life, getting by but feeling they are destined for more only to realise that she is mediocre, at best. There’s an element of Salieri here: his acknowledgement of Mozart’s genius and his ordinariness. But unlike that film Liza has no desire to destroy. She looks to nurture the child prodigy, a highly intelligent boy who questions Liza’s actions, and eventually takes them himself.
Sara Colangelo’s script (adapted from the book by Nadav Lapid) and direction are sublime. There’s no great directorial showing off, though it has a hazy dreamlike hue with a washed-out palate. The complex story is simply told and crucially makes no judgement on Liza.
Without giving away too much Colangelo hits Liza with a number of body-blows that can’t do anything other than create an initial sympathy for her. That however later dovetails into understanding, only for that then to become more convoluted.
Gyllenhaal is astonishing balancing care, despair and darkness; a person whom many will be able to relate you: trapped in a marriage, or it could be a job or career. A dull life lightened by a passion and a love for something but with the agonising self-realisation that they have little aptitude for it.