Lisa Spinelli is a Staten Island teacher who is unusually devoted to her students. When she discovers one of her five-year-olds is a prodigy, she becomes fascinated with the boy, ultimately risking her family and freedom to nurture his talent.
ActorsStarring: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Parker Sevak, Gael García Bernal, Michael Chernus, Rosa Salazar, Ajay Naidu, Anna Baryshnikov, Daisy Tahan, Sam Jules, Samrat Chakrabarti, Haley Murphy, Stefaniya Makarova, Ato Blankson-Wood, Carson Grant, Clark Carmichael, Aamira Martinez, Douglas Taurel, Nikhil Melnechuk, McManus Woodend, Libya Pugh, Ashley August, Avery Ilardi, Kea Trevett, Avishai Greenberg, Donovan Pierre Coleman, Gianna Jean, Shyaporn Theerakulstit, London Valentine
In this remake of the 2014 Israeli original, Maggy Gyllenhaal plays the titular Kindergarten Teacher, Lisa Spinelli, a 40-year old woman bored with her day to day life and her uninspiring family. She is taking poetry classes as a way to feed and voice her unappreciated intellectualism, even though her teacher isn’t exactly impressed by her efforts, and he even calls her a dilettante.
One day after class one of her pupils, 5 year old Jimmy Roy (Parker Sevak), paces around the room and almost robotically mumbles out a seemingly random few lines, which Lisa recognises as a beautiful poem. She writes the poem down and decides to test it by presenting it as her own work at her poetry class, which instantly makes her the teacher’s favourite and her fellow classmates are equally impressed. A dilettante she is not – she may not be able to write her own poetry, but she recognises poetic genius when she hears it.
Back at school, Lisa talks to Jimmy, and to his caretaker, to make sure that if or rather when he comes up with another poem to be sure to write it down so she can help develop his talent. As Lisa becomes more and more under the influence of her self-imposed desire, nay obligation, to nurture the poetic prodigy that Jimmy is in her eyes, she also becomes more and more frustrated with the world around them: Jimmy’s parents have little time for him and his father rather sees him playing baseball than be an intellectual; his caretaker Becca is a bad influence as she treats Jimmy as a ‘dumb child’ and is often late picking him up; and Lisa’s own family are mediocre drones devoid of cultural or intellectual interests. And so her regard for Jimmy grows into an obsession and she goes on a mission to help and guide this misunderstood and under-appreciated genius and protect him from all the disinterest in the world around them. She sees herself as just as misunderstood as Jimmy and doesn’t recognise her obsession is growing well beyond the acceptable. Or does she? Is she really looking out for Jimmy, or for herself?
There is a solid supporting cast but Maggie Gyllenhaal basically carries the entire movie on her own, and does an impressive job of walking the line of breaking norms yet keeping Lisa’s obsessive behaviour credible, and thus keeping you wondering whether her actions can be justifiable even in her own logic. What are her true drivers?
As Lisa’s obsession spirals out of control, the final four quiet words of the movie resonate the loudest of all and will leave you wondering whether they could actually exonerate her, at least to some extent?
Worth seeing for the great performance by Maggie Gyllenhaal.