The Kindergarten Teacher

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
The Kindergarten Teacher Movie Poster Image
Poignant drama of teacher and gifted child; language, nudity
  • R
  • 2018
  • 96 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Cautions that no matter how positive the intent, boundaries must not be crossed. Comments upon how great gifts of talent and artistry are rare and must be acknowledged, supported, cherished. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

The teacher is compassionate, smart, gifted in her relationships with young children, a caring parent, and yet vulnerable. Ultimately, she makes a series of escalating bad decisions that prove disastrous. Ethnic diversity.

Violence

Some suspenseful moments when audience may fear that a child is in danger.

Sex

Kissing, undressing, foreplay between adults. Partial nudity: central character's breasts visible in several scenes. 

Language

Occasional profanity, including "f--k," "s--t," "p---y," "bitch," "ass."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink alcohol in social situations; no drunkenness. Teens smoke marijuana in one party scene. Cigarette smoking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Kindergarten Teacher is a compelling drama about one woman's good intentions giving way to obsession and crossing multiple ethical boundaries. Based on an award-winning 2014 Israeli movie of the same name, writer-director Sara Colangelo has transported the action to Staten Island where the title character discovers that one of her students, a 5-year-old boy, is a miraculously gifted poet. The teacher's efforts to recognize and support the boy's innate talent lead her to a series of questionable actions. Language includes occasional profanity: "f--k," "s--t," "p---y," "bitch." Several scenes show the initiation of sexual activity between adults, kissing, embracing, with female breasts visible in multiple scenes. Adults drink alcoholic beverages. A teen couple is caught sharing a marijuana cigarette at a party. The kindergarten teacher smokes cigarettes. Adult themes, suspense, and dubious behavior on the part of the leading character make this best suited for mature teens.

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What's the story?

Lisa Spinelli (Maggie Gyllenhaal) has been teaching kindergarten for a long time in THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER. She's very good at it -- nurturing, smart, perceptive, and keenly aware of the long-lasting positive effects of her life's work. Nonetheless, Lisa is searching for more. Her teen children need her less and are separating from her. Partly to fill that void, Lisa hopes to exercise whatever artistic bent she has by taking a poetry class. So, at this profound time of transition, the kindergarten teacher is stunned to realize that one of her students, Jimmy Roy (Parker Sevak), a seemingly normal, healthy, 5-year-old boy, is a genius of "Mozartian-dimension." Jimmy is a poet -- a brilliant poet, an inexplicably sophisticated poet. And, she marvels, this unexpected treasure has been placed in her classroom for safekeeping. Unfortunately, the current culture values technology, consumerism, money-making -- not genius. When Lisa's efforts to elicit the support of Jimmy's family go unheeded, she's crestfallen. Now, frantic that the child's unique gift will be overlooked, Lisa makes an astonishing number of decisions that put both boy and teacher in great danger.

Is it any good?

Sara Colangelo's masterful film hopes to enlighten about the rarity and significance of great art in today's world; Maggie Gyllenhaal's extraordinary performance gives testimony to her premise. Surrounded by a pitch-perfect musical score, a beautiful production, and a wonderful supporting cast and the sensational young Parker Sevak as Jimmy Roy, Gyllenhaal has simply never been better. The Kindergarten Teacher isn't afraid of having its leading character fall from grace. Lisa's journey makes the story all the more impactful. Though her passion trumps her good sense, her challenge is a challenge faced by all of us: to value art at its purest and to advocate for those whose miraculous gifts come this way so seldom.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the filmmakers created the specific cultural environment that led Lisa Spinelli to her actions. Think about how the teacher's own children and Jimmy Roy's father were portrayed. What did the kindergarten teacher see in them that made her justify her behavior toward Jimmy?

  • At the very end of The Kindergarten Teacher, Jimmy's voice is heard twice, repeating "I have a poem." How does this one memorable line embody the theme of the entire movie? How does the little boy's plaintive voice represent everything that Lisa Spinelli was afraid of?

  • A movie's production design provides a visual environment to enhance the story and themes. How did this film's production design -- settings, costumes, and lighting -- contribute to the plot, the mood, and your understanding of the characters? 

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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