Film & Television

Netflix Features Four Original Films By Women

Based on a 2014 Israeli movie, The Kindergarten Teacher is director Colangelo’s second feature film. Having premiered at Sundance, where Colangelo won Best Director for Drama, it’s already earned rave reviews for its leading lady, Maggie Gyllenhaal. The plot is disturbing. It focuses on a dedicated teacher, Lisa Spinelli (Gyllenhaal), who becomes obsessed with one of her students, Jimmy (diminutive 5-year-old Parker Sevan) when he shows prodigious talent as a poet. Her encouragement rapidly becomes something creepier as she passes Jimmy’s poems off as her own in the adult-ed poetry class she’s taking, offers to babysit him after school, and attempts to walk away from her own family and life to pursue his gifts with him (whether he wants her to or not).

Colangelo is quick to point out that The Kindergarten Teacher is Lisa’s story, not Jimmy’s. “This isn’t a story about a boy genius. We’ve seen that film before. There’s a whole genre of prodigy movies, and this isn’t that. This is really a film about a woman who is an artist, and who is hungry to create, and the only way that she could really do it, is through this boy.” She believes that more women directing, if that trend can continue, will make movies dramatically richer. “I would love to see more films, like this, that have really challenging and interesting female characters. I want to see films that I can really identify with in a way that I don’t yet.”

The last title, Private Life, was my favorite of the four. It’s an intensive look at the infertility industry and the desperation of “get a baby at any cost” would-be parents. Jenkins based the film on some of her own experiences trying to start a family, although she’s quick to point out that she had to put some distance between living it and writing it. Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti star as Rachel and Richard, New York intellectuals who have already tried IVF and IUI and a seemingly endless list of other expensive acronyms. Apparently, Rachel’s eggs are old and Richard’s one testicle is blocked. It’s this kind of seemingly personal information that is discussed not just by doctors and nurses, but by well-meaning friends and judgmental relatives. There is no “private life” when you’re trying to have a baby. Enter step-niece Sadie (the engaging young Kayli Carter) who has dropped out of college but needs a “purpose.” When she agrees to donate her younger, assumedly more fertile eggs, the road to parenthood becomes even more complicated.

Jenkins is another female director in her mid-50s with a short list of credits; essentially, she’s put out a film each decade. Her movies are typically low-budget, but with tremendous performances from the likes of Hahn, Giamatti, Laura Linney, and the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman (both in The Savages). “I’m interested in what people say to each other when they’re pushed to a kind of primitive state,” she recently told “They’re in what looks like civilization, but then they’re having some kind of primal, pulsing, gloppy, primordial something. It pushes human behavior to a degree where you really see what they’re feeling.”

To say that television has changed would be the understatement of the last half-century. When I was growing up, we had three networks, a PBS affiliate, and three “independents.” Today,  typical cable subscribers have access to hundreds of networks, a long list of pay channels, and their choice of several streaming services. The need for content has expanded exponentially. Hopefully, more production companies — like Netflix — will hand these opportunities over to deserving women like Holofcener, al-Mansour, Colangelo, and Jenkins.

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