'The Kindergarten Teacher' is worth seeing for Maggie Gyllenhaal’s performance

In the film, Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Lisa Spinelli, a teacher who is at first intrigued, then entranced, and finally obsessed by 5-year-old Jimmy, a pupil with a prodigious gift for writing poetry.

Courtesy of Netflix
Maggie Gyllenhaal is Lisa Spinelli and Parker Sevak is Jimmy Roy in 'The Kindergarten Teacher.'

Based on a 2014 Israeli film of the same name, “The Kindergarten Teacher” is one of those movies with a terrific premise left unfulfilled.

Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Lisa Spinelli, the titular teacher who is at first intrigued, then entranced, and finally obsessed by 5-year-old Jimmy (Parker Sevak), a pupil with a prodigious gift for writing poetry. Where it gets weird is that, an amateur poet herself, Lisa palms off Jimmy’s verse as her own in the nighttime poetry class she is taking in lower Manhattan. (Her teacher is fetchingly played by Gael García Bernal.) It gets weirder, and more improbable, than this, and not in ways that always make a whole lot of psychological sense.

The premise of a schoolteacher so taken with a prodigy in her midst is so good that this film’s vagaries, written and directed by Sara Colangelo, are doubly 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. We watch Lisa slide inexorably into a kind of open-eyed fugue state as she descends ever deeper into mania. She is as believable as the movie is not. Grade: B- (Rated R for some language and nudity.)

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