‘The Kindergarten Teacher’ Review: Maggie Gyllenhaal Delivers an A+ Performance in a Tense Moral Thriller — Sundance 2018

IndieWire | 1/27/2018 | Staff
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“Kung Fu” star David Carradine, the great warrior-philosopher of the 20th century, once said: “If you can’t be the poet, be the poem.” He makes it sound so easy — as though deferring your story to someone else wouldn’t feel like an act of defenestration — but then again, the man seldom met a problem he couldn’t high-kick into submission.

Lisa Spinelli (a captivating Maggie Gyllenhaal) has no such luck. The eponymous, fortysomething educator at the heart of Sara Colangelo’s “The Kindergarten Teacher,” Lisa has spent the last 20 years of her life teaching kids the alphabet and shepherding them to the next stop on the assembly line of America’s school system, and she’s finally beginning to succumb to the banality of it all.

Posture - Classroom - End - Day - Body

You can see it in her posture as she sits in her classroom at the end of the day, her long body slumped against a chair built for a child. You can hear it in her voice, which has naturally become slow and serene after two decades of talking down to five-year-olds; it’s like a gust of summer wind, gentle and empty. Most of all, you can feel it in the nighttime poetry course she attends once a week in a dank university classroom somewhere along her commute back to Staten Island. There’s nothing inherently sad about adults trying to expand their horizons, especially when the instructor (Gael Garcia Bernal) runs the room with such contagious enthusiasm, but it’s hard to ignore the desperation in Lisa’s eyes. She needs this just a little bit too much. Alas, Lisa’s poetry is awful — well, “awful” isn’t the right word, but the truth of the matter is even worse: her poetry is mundane. And she knows it.

So when one of Lisa’s five-year-old students starts walking around her classroom in a...
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