Studio:Docurama Year: 2008 Cast: Aleta St. James, Gian Sliwa, Francesca Sliwa, Wyatt Kapadia, Sneya Kapadia, Layla Kapadia, Roderick Moon, Heidi Moon, Jackson Moon, Tony Pratofiorito, Cynthia Pratofiorito, Juliana Pratofiorito, Kim Ashton, Kris Ragoonath, Kieron Ragoonath, Gabriella Rowe, Ken Cohen, Wendy Levey, Jean Rosenberg, Debbie Mounsey, Gail Ionescu, Victoria Goldman, Charles Gasparino, Amanda Uhry, Patti Wollman Director: Marc H. Simon, Matthew Makar Release Date: July 07, 2009 Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable) Run Time: 01h:31m:38s Genre(s): documentary
"Tell them that you like the New York Times crossword puzzle." - Tony Pratofiorito
The absurdity of spending $20,000 a year to get your three-year-old in the "right" preschool is one thing, but the nearly year-long process of simply getting selected is quite another. And all of the pathetic and misplaced pressure being applied to these kids on display here is enough to make me almost vomit.
Someone tell my why a three-year-old needs be learning Mandarin or tennis as opposed to—I don't know—playing with other kids?
Movie Grade: B-
DVD Grade: B-
Apparently if you live in New York City, and then you suddenly have a baby, one of your primary directives for the first three years of the baby's life is endlessly researching preschools for those precious bundles of joy.
That's the message filmmakers Marc H. Simon and Matthew Makar trot out in Nursery University, a 2008 documentary that looks at the ridiculously competitive world of what it takes to get kids into what many consider the right school. Preschool, that is. Spaces are limited, tuitions can range upwards of $10,000 a semester, and for-hire consultants charge $4,000 for a handful of sessions theoretically geared to get parents on track with the whole process.
One of the experts refers to it as a "bloodsport", and after watching this I can't help but agree. Simon and Makar balance their narrative by focusing on an assortment of families from different economic and social backgrounds, all playing the game of trying to get in. Their coverage of the all-important day-after-Labor-Day madness where frantic phone calls are made to secure applications is a hoot, as Simon and Makar's cameras cut back-and-forth between inside the schools and back to the parents, as busy signals and mass rejection seem to be the order of the day.
The filmmakers follow the families for almost 12 months, from the research process to the application process in September on through the final selection process in March of the following year. Not all of the parents are wealthy oddballs with too much disposable income, and a couple of the personal stories are actually quite moving. It's those folks—the ones who seem grounded in some sort of reality—who are at least reassuring to me that everyone in NYC is not a self-absorbed nut. Naturally, present company excluded if you happen to hail from there.
But quirky excess is the name of the game, and whether it's the Ivy League imaginings of the parents or the myth-perpetuating antics of the preschools it all seems hopelessly intertwined in a big ugly ball. But it is certainly fun to watch. Our daughter—now 18—went to a park district preschool (the horror!) that cost a couple hundred bucks, and all of the wonderful socialization skills she received there more than prepared her for the rigors of kindergarten.
The subject may be maddening, but as a doc the film treats it with a degree of humor, often allowing some of the parents to show themselves as their own worst enemies. One can almost imagine the future therapy bills for some of these cute kids as the threat of just being average weighs over their tiny heads like the sword of Damocles.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is decent, in terms of documentary standards, yet hardly an eye popper. Colors and fleshtones appear natural, falling well to the left of vivid, however. Though generally a clean print, there was a bit of very minor debris evident in a scene or two, but far from a deal breaker. Audio is delivered in 2.0 stereo, and it provides clear voices, mostly recorded under challenging "real world" conditions.
Directors Marc H. Simon and Matthew Makar contribute an audio commentary, alternating between discussing the difficulties in getting the schools to allow shooting, as well as the assorted parents who weren't so appreciative of them randomly filming their children playing in a park. They do address one of the sequences that I thought came across as slightly manufactured, so I was pleased to learn my cynicism was unfounded. They're fairly talkative, though the content is not necessarily all that critical.
Supplements also include a set of 8 deleted scenes that run just over 16 minutes. Some are just odd, such as "empowerment expert" Aleta St. James hosting a healing concert, but my favorite was the one featuring the curiously fascinating Pratofioritos, who here bicker and snipe as they time their possible door-to-door walks to the different preschools. Hamptons International Film Festival Q&A (05m:25s) features the filmmakers, as well as most of principle families, fielding questions onstage just after the screening. The Margaret Mead Festival Q&A (07m:43s) is slightly redundant, only this time the filmmakers are joined by a couple of the preschool heads. Those same preschool honchos show up in Tips from the Experts: Advice for Getting into Nursery School (10m:04s), in which they provide a panel discussion, answering most of the same questions featured in the film. Filmmaker bios and a theatrical trailer conclude the extras.