Film FestivalsMovie ReviewsTIFF 2018: The Kindergarten Teacher Review

Keith NoakesSeptember 14, 2018

This will be one of many reviews during this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. If you would like to keep up with our content, click here.

Synopsis:When a Staten Island kindergarten teacher discovers what may be a gifted five year-old student in her class, she becomes fascinated and obsessed with the child—spiraling downward on a dangerous and desperate path in order to nurture his talent. (Netflix)

Starring: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gael García Bernal, and Parker Sevak

Writer: Sara Colangelo

Director: Sara Colangelo

Rating: TV-MA

Running Time: 96mins


On the surface, this is a film about a simple kindergarten teacher named Lisa Spinelli (Gyllenhaal) but it was so much more and eventually taking a dark turn by the end. Spinelli was a woman who had hit a rut in both her personal and professional lives. She loved her children and her students but she wanted more from her life so she decided to take a poetry class. Not getting the validation she needed, she chose to latch on to a gifted, five-year-old student in her class named Jimmy (Sevak). Over the course of the film, Spinelli’s fascination with Jimmy’s special abilities evolved into an obsession.

What was so great about the story was the different interpretations of Spinelli’s motives. Her actions could be seen some twisted need to help Jimmy or maybe she was doing it for herself or maybe it was a combination of the two. All these conclusions are valid. It was very easy to see things from Spinelli’s point of view and even empathize with her. In her mind, she wasn’t doing anything wrong. In terms of negatives, there could have been more character development for Jimmy. He came from an unstable home and somehow developed his abilities out of nowhere. He felt more like a plot device than an actual character. Also, the end will be abrupt for some.

The best part of the film was Gyllenhaal’s excellent performance as Spinelli. She was in just about every scene and single-handedly carries the film as the loving but arguably unstable teacher. Her likability made it easy to empathize with Spinelli. There was plenty of pain below the surface and her relationship with the pure and simple Jimmy was a reflection of what the film thought of today’s society. As far as child actors go, Sevak was great as Jimmy. His performance captured the innocence and obliviousness of a young child. His chemistry with Gyllenhaal sold their teacher-student relationship which became a mother-son relationship.

Overall, this was a great character study that was thrilling to watch about the lengths one woman will go in her quest for validation. The script was sharp and Maggie Gyllenhall was superb while single-handedly carrying the film with a layered performance.

Score: 9/10

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