Directed by Directed by Marc H. Simon and Matthew Makar
The kids are alright — it’s the parents who are the nightmares in this documentary about private pre-school admissions in NYC. In the vein of Spellbound, the film follows five families as they wind through an increasingly competitive battleground to get their kids into the schools of their choice, thanks to a monied baby boom.
Starting with the process of obtaining an application — in which hopeful parents scramble to the phones at once to request one before the schools run out, and cut off the lines — the film laughs at the zany lengths that New Yorkers are willing to go to pamper their children. There are moments of heart, and voices of reason, mostly from nursery school administration staff. Directors Marc H. Simon and Matthew Makar bounce around from playful scene with one family and toddler to the next, giving an otherwise headache of a story a lighter feel.
There is a range of what’s on the line for these families: a mother of twins with a developmentally disabled member of the set tries to find the right fit for both; a status-seeking working mom fights to get her child into the choicest school tooth and nail; a native New Yorker finds himself hapless to the pre-preschool school scene and wonders what’s happened to his neighborhood; and a low-income couple in Harlem worry that financial aid won’t be there even if their son is accepted. It’s a lot like college admissions, so it would seem — some parents even believe that an elite preschool is the first step in paving the way to the Ivy League. The film’s humor draws from reinforcing rich Manhattan stereotypes to a hilt, but the mockery falls short of fully developing issues of class at hand. The less wealthy in search of a better school for their kids get caught in the rat race here, too. But in a landscape populated with $400-session nursery school admissions consultants, heavy vetting, brownnosing and application fees, chances of equal opportunity are less probable than the film may lead you to think.