We open up on Lisa (Maggie Gyllenhaal) entering into a classroom. Lisa puts the shades in the windows up and turns on a fan in her kindergarten classroom. She sits at one of the small tables and takes a moment for herself. We next see Lisa looking at an aquarium while waiting on a ferry. She sees the ferry is docking and heads to the railing to watch it come in. We see her writing into a notebook while sitting on the boat, she doesn’t look happy.
We see that Lisa is now in a classroom for adults, taking a class on poetry. The teacher (Gael Garcia Bernal) asks for people in the classroom to read their poems to the class. He asks Lisa to share her poem with the class. She begins to read her poem when we cut to Lisa driving her car onto the driveway of her two-story house. We cut to Lisa eating dinner at a kitchen table when her husband, Grant (Michael Chernus) walks in and sits down asking what did she write this week. She tells Grant that she wrote a haiku while she was on the ferry, and reluctantly hands Grant her poem. Grant reads the poem out loud. Lisa laughs then tells Grant that the class didn’t like the poem, saying that it was ‘derivative.’ Grant tries to be supportive, but Lisa seems to be very down about her poetry.
We cut to Lisa back in the classroom, positioning a sunflower in a window, turning the flower pot until the sunflower is facing the window. We see her cleaning the classroom bathroom and then pouring punch for her students. There are close-ups of the faces of her students in the classroom, and then we see that Lisa is having her students practice writing letters with the help of Megan (Anna Baryshnikov), Lisa’s teaching assistant. Lisa talks about how the letter s is like a snake slithering on the ground. Lisa walks from table to table, giving her students individual attention. She notices that one of her students is not doing the work and she goes over to encourage him to work on his letters. We can see that Lisa is a kind and caring teacher that wants each of her students to succeed. Next, we look at the kids and Lisa singing a song that they are making up. The kids are having a great time singing the song.
We cut to Lisa, just outside her classroom, saying goodbye to her students and the parents that have come to pick them up. Lisa notices that Jimmy (Parker Sevak), one of her students, is pacing back and forth speaking to himself. Lisa realizes that Jimmy is reciting a poem that he has written in his head. Lisa writes the poetry down and asks Jimmy’s nanny, Becca (Rosa Salazar) to write down any poem that Jimmy recites at home. Lisa tells Jimmy before he leaves how remarkable his poetry is and how much Lisa liked his poem. Little does Lisa know at this time of how Jimmy and his poetry are going to take Lisa down a road that she may never recover from.
‘The Kindergarten Teacher’ is a film directed and co-written by Sara Colangelo, who last brought us the 2014. award-winning film ‘Little Accidents.’ The movie is about a teacher, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, who becomes obsessed with one of her students, Jimmy, (Parker Sevak) and his poetry. With that first poem that Jimmy wrote, Lisa goes on a self-destructive journey to ensure that Jimmy continues to write his poetry. We see Lisa become increasing fixated on Jimmy and it’s hard to tell if Lisa is the hero or the villain of the film. Lisa is willing to risk everything, including her job and her family to keep Jimmy’s talent alive.
Lisa is the only one that sees how special Jimmy is. Jimmy’s father, Nick (Ajay Naidu) who has sole custody of him, wants his boy to be ‘normal’ and do things like play baseball. Jimmy’s nanny (Rosa Salazar) even tells Lisa that Jimmy is a ‘weirdo.’ Lisa is disappointed with how her life has turned out. She doesn’t think her two children are applying themselves and is very vocal about it. Lisa envisioned that her children would do great things, but Lisa has a daughter (Daisy Tahan) who is just coasting through school and a son that wants to join the military instead of going to college. Lisa is bored with her marriage to Grant and is unhappy and failing badly with her poetry, something that she thought she would be good at. All of this unhappiness lays the seed of her getting involved with Jimmy’s life.
Maggie Gyllenhaal is dazzling as the teacher, Lisa, who is infatuated with Jimmy, who she considers a child prodigy. Gyllenhaal takes us along for the ride as Lisa’s obsession with Jimmy becomes more and more inappropriate. The fact that even at the end of the film, you can’t figure out if she is a hero or an out and out criminal. Gyllenhaal has excellent chemistry with Sevak, playing the sad little boy who likes that someone loves his poetry. Sevak plays Jimmy as a boy who doesn’t emit a lot of emotion, so it’s hard to tell how he feels about Lisa and all the attention he is getting from her. The supporting cast is solid, with Gael García Bernal standing out as the poetry teacher who takes an interest in Lisa and her poems.
‘The Kindergarten Teacher’ is a film that is sometimes uncomfortable but interesting to watch as Gyllenhaal gives an impeccable performance of a woman who slowly tears apart her life for a child she considers a gift to the world.
My Rating: Full Price
My movie rating system from best to worst:
1). I Would Pay to See it Again
2). Full Price
3). Bargain Matinee
5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again