The Kindergarten Teacher (2018)


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Critic Consensus: Elevated by a bravura performance from Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Kindergarten Teacher is one American remake that retains its impact the second time around.

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Movie Info

Writer-director Sarah Colangelo's sophomore feature film is based on the 2014 Israeli film of the same name. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a forty-year old married kindergarten teacher living in Staten Island who is terminally bored with her banal middle-class existence. When she becomes convinced that her five-year-old student is a budding poetic genius, she decides to nurture his talents in a reckless and questionable manner.

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Cast

Maggie Gyllenhaal
as Lisa Spinelli
Parker Sevak
as Jimmy Roy
Michael Chernus
as Lisa's Husband
Daisy Tahan
as Lisa's Daughter
Haley Murphy
as Brittany
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Critic Reviews for The Kindergarten Teacher

All Critics (53) | Top Critics (15)

Unsatisfying. And yet I believe it's worth seeing for Gyllenhaal's performance. She is one of the rare actresses who can project real intelligence in all its maddening moods.

October 19, 2018 | Rating: B- | Full Review…

It's hard not to think "WTF?!" in this story of a teacher who discovers a child prodigy and becomes obsessed. But Gyllenhaal is a sorceress of an actress worthy of following through the film's twisty paths of light and dark.

October 12, 2018 | Rating: 3.5/5 | Full Review…

Gyllenhaal, a master at conveying a conflicted inner life, is pitch-perfect as she allows her concern for Jimmy to slowly slide off the rails of appropriateness.

October 11, 2018 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…

Colangelo's best move was to cast Gyllenhaal, who captures Lisa's conflicted emotions in subtle gestures and expressions, never overplaying.

October 11, 2018 | Full Review…
Top Critic

A deft and intelligent minor-key variation on a superb 2014 Israeli film of the same title.

October 11, 2018 | Full Review…

Gyllenhaal - who is never out of our sight - somehow makes us all her accomplices, imprisoning our sympathies even when Lisa's inappropriate behavior escalates to inexcusable.

October 11, 2018 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The Kindergarten Teacher

½

Maggie Gyllenhaalï¿ 1/2(TM)s face is capable of so much compassion.

Philip Price
Philip Price

Super Reviewer

½

It's probably the first time since I saw Deadpool 2 and A Quiet Place back-to-back that I follow an excellent movie with one that, while not quite as excellent, is still very good in its own right. I think that, first things first, I feel that this is a movie that isn't necessarily an acquired taste, but it is a movie that is tailored to an audience that appreciates more subdued and nuanced storytelling as opposed to something that's more in your face like, say, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Now, don't get me wrong, Three Billboards features some excellent and nuanced character development, but it's a movie that's more aggressive in its storytelling and it was precisely what that movie needed to be. This one, on the other hand, is a little quieter and subdued. What's left unsaid has as much, if not more, relevance than what is said. With that said, this is a very interesting movie in that themes of obsession have been explored in movies many times before. Fatal Attraction or Basic Instinct come to mind almost immediate as movies dealing with that theme. But this movie is interesting in that, obviously, it explores this kindergarten teacher's obsession with this five-year-old boy that has shown tremendous potential and talent for poetry. Lisa, the teacher, is a struggling poet, she goes to these classes and the poems she writes are poorly received by her teacher and the other students in the class. Lisa is married and has two children, but, quite frankly, she is completely and utterly bored of her life. While her and Grant don't have a broken marriage, you can tell that the spark just isn't there anymore and Lisa's children do not seem to be interested in the same things she is. She values intellectualism, curiosity and knowledge. The fact that she can't talk to her own children because they're glued to a phone or they're talking about "unimportant" things like video games or TV shows which, according to her, are not art disappoints the fuck out of her. In short, Lisa's life is incredibly unfulfilling. So you can see how she would take an immense interest in nurturing Jimmy's poetic talents and protecting him from the world that would just crush his talent and creativity. And, theoretically speaking, it's good that Lisa is taking an interest in one of her students. I think that's something positive, because, at least in the public school system in the U.S (which should be better, but the current dumbfuck president does not value education, probably because of how uneducated his dumb ass is), teachers, MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, don't take much interest in students' lives or their pursuits. So, again, in theory, this is a good thing. But, of course, Lisa, as the film progresses, starts forcefully ingratiating herself into Jimmy's life. She even goes as far as to take his poems, which are actually great (and this is as someone who knows nothing about poetry) and incredibly advanced for Jimmy's age, and reads them at her class. Essentially, she passes them off as her own. She never says they're hers, but she never clarifies that they're Jimmy's either. She allows herself to, unhealthily, live vicariously through Jimmy's talent. What she wasn't able to accomplish with her life, she will do through her mentoring of Jimmy. And, again, it's sort of ironic that she wants to nurture and cultivate this talent that Jimmy has while having none of that talent herself. That's not always a fair point of criticism, however, just because I don't have talent at something in particular does not mean that I can't recognize it in others. But I think that Lisa, in her own delusional world, considers herself a great artist when, clearly, she's not. I think that's the difference because I'm entirely self-aware of what I'm not talented at while still recognizing that same talent in someone else. Lisa doesn't. Another thing that is funny is that Jimmy, seemingly, has no interest in any of this. Yes, he is a great poet, but he does it because it comes to him. Not because it's something that he's passionate about. He has no real interest in poetry and, really, he's like five years old or something, it's not like he could really, truly, appreciate it at such a young age. Lisa is trying to mold him the way she failed to mold her children because, again, her own children never showed any inclinations towards the things that she enjoys or values. Lisa goes as far as to give Jimmy her number so he can call her whenever he thinks of a poem. And that's a running theme in the film, which plays greatly into the ending itself. Whenever Jimmy says that he has a poem, Lisa immediately rushes to his side and writes it down. Either that or she interrupts coitus with her husband, when Jimmy calls her, to, again, write down his poem. This woman goes way too far and, honestly, it's a little unnerving at times. Not unnerving in that this woman is gonna have sex with this five-year-old boy, but unnerving in the things that she does in order to ensure that Jimmy's talent is guided by someone as, seemingly, he has no one in his life that seems to fully support his talent. She takes him to this poetry club after his father insisted that he go to baseball practice with a friend instead. Later on, and this will feature MASSIVE SPOILERS so just look away, she even kidnaps him with plans to take him over the Canadian border to, theoretically, start a new life where she can guide his path to where she feels it can go. Regardless, no review of this movie is complete without mentioning how tremendous Maggie Gyllenhaal is, because she perfectly captures the world-weariness of a woman who's lived a life that she is clearly unhappy with. She doesn't have to say this for you to know that she is unhappy and that she wants her life to mean something more. She's willing to abandon her husband and children in order to achieve this life she so desperately wants. And yet, once again, the movie never really tells you any of this because, as I mentioned earlier, what's left unsaid sometimes is equally as important as what is said. And this is all thanks to Maggie's excellent and committed performance. The scripting is also strong and the direction is always sensitive. You can understand where Lisa is coming from in wanting Jimmy's talents to grow, but her methods go too far. In the end, as wrong as Lisa's methods may have been, she ends up being correct in that the world doesn't really care about Jimmy's talent and it will find a way to snuff it out. This is show in the last scene in the movie, where Jimmy is taken to a police car and he says he has a poem, but no one pays any attention to him. And that's how the process begins of the world snuffing out Jimmy's talent as a poet. That's really all there is to the movie, it really is a quietly engrossing movie in its own right. Like I said, it's not gonna be everyone's cup of tea. I think the pacing might throw people off and the fact that it doesn't really feature any "big" moments is gonna be disappointing, because you're just sort of expecting things to go incredibly wrong. Like I fully expected that Lisa was gonna drown Jimmy in the they went to near the end of the movie. Thankfully that didn't happen, it would have been too much. It's a movie that's more about exploring human nature and how that very nature drives Lisa to do what she did. So, yea, very good movie. Excellent lead performance from Maggie Gyllenhaal, a strong script and confident direction make this a very good movie. I wouldn't give it a strong recommendation since, again, this will be more of an "acquired" taste, but ultimately I did enjoy this quite a bit.

Jesse Ortega
Jesse Ortega

Super Reviewer

Throughout the history of cinema, critics have made arguments for actors and actresses making bad films into good ones or vice versa, but I haven't had many of those experiences, personally. If a film is bad, it's within the filmmaking itself and the screenplay. A bad performance doesn't make a fantastic film automatically terrible in my opinion, but I can admit when a mediocre movie is accented by a stellar lead performance. While I didn't dislike The Kindergarten Teacher, I have to admit that it was a slightly frustrating experience. Due to how I felt the movie played out as a whole, I can't quite give this one a glaring recommendation, but if you're a fan of the dramatic genre, you may find yourself enjoying it more than myself. Here's why I can admit this is a very well-done movie, but why it didn't quite sit well with me. Following Lisa Spinelli (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a teacher who believes one of her young students may be gifted, The Kindergarten Teacher is truly about the fact that this woman has conflicted emotions toward the entire situation. Young Jimmy Roy is the centrepiece for this story and although their scenes together are easily the best in the movie, the third act of this film feels very odd. Without ruining anything, this story takes a turn that had me strongly disliking the actions of the main character in Lisa, which left me not caring about any of the consequences in the final few moments. This film started out strong but lost my interest by the final act, and that's pretty much the opposite of what you'd want a movie to do. For that reason alone, my enthusiasm for this film is not very high. Although I haven't seen Maggie Gyllenhaal's filmography to the point of saying I'm a huge fan of hers, her performance here is on the verge of incredible. As I mentioned, I thoroughly disliked her character, but that's also due to her fantastic performance. Whether she was at home with her boring husband and kids or sitting in class and making you hate her actions, I was enthralled by the way she was bringing this character to life. I can't see the movie itself being considered for many awards this year, but if for nothing else, this performance definitely deserves some attention by voters. Having a child prodigy as the central focus of your film has always been an intriguing plot device in my opinion. There are so many ways your story can take a dramatic turn, but when the turn it takes is to simply exploit the talents of a young child for personal gain, I found that to be extremely distasteful as a premise. I understand that's what writer/director Sara Colangelo was going for (and quite well if I may add), but even though something is well made, it doesn't automatically make me enjoy what I'm watching. In the end, The Kindergarten Teacher starts off as a very strong drama with believable performances all around and quite solid direction, but it spirals out of control by the third act. My personal feelings about the way this film ends may be getting the better of me here, but it's really hard to ignore how strongly I felt about a few moments that affected my overall enjoyment. I can clearly see the effort that went into this film and some viewers may love every bit of this movie, so I'll give it a mild recommendation with an asterisk on the conclusion of the movie. Due to the talent on and off the screen, I am slightly disappointed with how I feel about this movie overall.

KJ Proulx
KJ Proulx

Super Reviewer

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