“A Night at the Kindergarten” is a dark dramedy about a committee of Polish parents gathering to consider a few matters concerning their semi-exclusive school, and rehearse and prep for the next night’s Christmas pageant, which they will perform for the kids.
The wild card tossed into their midst in Eryk, the pothead “sound engineer” who decides to come, as his nurse/girlfriend can’t make it and she really needs to make an appearance. Her kid’s in the Little Ray of Sunshine School via financial aid, and little Tytus is wildly unpopular because he’s acting out and constantly in trouble at home and at school.
It’s meant to be a broader comedy than it plays, with Eryk (Piotr Witkowski) ringing up his pot dealer/pal to babysit the kid for the night, with one parent bringing booze to the meeting and another quick to show off his pistol. The uneven movie that results doesn’t quite deliver, even when matters turn manic in the third act and make the inevitable turn towards soft and sentimental. But it’s worth a look.
Eryk figures he’s making a Grand Gesture by showing up in Dorata’s (Masza Wagrocka) stead. They need this school in his Tytus’ life because he’s on the cusp of “special needs” and kind of disturbing to boot.
But Eryk has no idea what he’s walking into. The eight parent executive committee is run like a semi-benign dictatorship by the organized and commanding Justya (Lena Gora), a severe blonde who is basically a mean girl turned martinet parent. And she’s ready to kick Tytus out.
“Sooner or later,” Eryk overhears her fume, that kid “is going to kill someone.”
Mr. “I came here just to show I care” finds himself on the defensive, almost sure to be blamed if the boy is tossed and their homelives are upended. But Eryk can read people, and starts lobbying, one-on-one, this shrinking violet mom, that oversexed couple of single parents who “met through the school,” and the older, drinking and a tad needy dad (Zbigniew Zamachowski) who keeps referring to himself in the third person, assuming he’s more respected and beloved than he actually is.
Tyrants are only effective when their subjects are compliant, and Eryk rattles starchy, callous Justya, whose sneering facade is just that.
“I just want to see the look on your face when you lose,” Eryk sneers back.
But as we hear about the boy’s many transgressions, how upset he’s making all the other kids, we wonder if all of Eryk’s charms, and his entreaties to the nearly powerless headmistress (Julia Wyszynska) will be in vain.
The broad caricatures within this nine parent sample size aren’t dizzy, testy, scared or randy enough to be instantly funny. The lobbying, back-stabbing and back-biting isn’t hilarious either, and the slack pacing means these other sins stand out and stare us in the face all through this “Night at the Kindergarten.” It’s a “romp” that doesn’t romp.
The bickering over what a “Christmas Pageant” should have in it (“A real TREE!”) and who should have more lines (the Virgin Mary’s odd-man-out husband, Joseph) is amusing, in that “Best Christmas Pageant Ever” seen-it-before way.
Still, it ends well, the leads are nicely contrasted and some of the twists manage just enough interest to keep you watching.
But even the madcap moments have a sort of “no rules in Poland” brittleness that work against its more melodramatic flourishes. When things finally go over the top in the moonshine-induced mayhem of the rehearsal that comes after their “meeting,” it’s a bit of on-screen sizzle that seems too little, too late.
Rating: TV-MA, sexual situations, put use, profanity
Cast: Piotr Borowski, Lena Gora, Aleksandra Domanska, Masza Wagrocka, Dobromir Dymecki
Zbigniew Zamachowski and Julia Wyszynska
Credits: Directed by Rafal Skalski, scripted by Marek Baranowski. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:36