(director/writer: Sara Colangelo; screenwriter: based on the film by Nadav Lapid; cinematographer: Pepe Avila Del Pino; editors: Marc Vives/Lee Percy; music: Asher Goldschmidt; cast: Maggie Gyllenhaal (Lisa Spinelli), Parker Sevak (Jimmy Roy), Rosa Salazar (Becca), Anna Baryshnikov (Meghan), Michael Chernus (Grant Spinelli), Gael Garcia Bernal (Simon), Ajay Naidu (Nikhil Roy), Samrat Chakrabarti (Sanjay Roy ), Daisy Tahan (Lainey), Sam Jules (Josh Spinelli); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Talia Kleinhendler, Osnat Handelsman-Keren, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Celine Rattray, Trudie Styler; Netflix; 2018)

A promising remake of the 2014 Israeli film by Nadav Lapid that can’t fulfill its promise, but is nevertheless a compelling watch.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A promising remake of the 2014 Israeli film by Nadav Lapid that can’t fulfill its promise, but is nevertheless a compelling watch. Maggie Gyllenhaal as the titled teacher does a marvelous job conveying her frustration with how cold the world is when it comes to helping the young gifted artist. Writer/director Sara Colangelo (“Little Accidents”) tries to make us understand why the competent stable teacher of 20 years would endanger her family and her career, in a mid-life crisis, crossing the line in the relationship between teacher and pupil. The middle-aged kindergarten teacher from Staten Island, Lisa Spinelli (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who is married to the supportive Grant (Michael Chernus) and is the mother of two normal high school students (Sam Jules & Daisy Tahan), and who seems well-adjusted to family life and to being a dedicated teacher. What we don’t know is how she feels so lost and hides that inside. Once a week Lisa goes into Manhattan to take an adult education creative writing poetry class. Her teacher (Gael Garcia Bernal) rebuffs her poetry when read aloud to the class as lacking in feelings. On her day job, Lisa discovers that one of her pupils, the 5-year-old Jimmy Roy (Parker Sevak), might be a child prodigy in poetry. The quiet little boy, with an India heritage, has the amazing ability to write poems that can pass for ones adult poets would write. Lisa uses his poems as hers in class, and the teacher takes note of her now as someone who is a born poet. To make sure she gets all of Jimmy’s poems she arranges with her young nanny, an aspiring actress (Rosa Salazar), to write down any poem he comes up with at home. When Lisa is unable to impress Jimmy’s divorced, workaholic nightclub owning disinterested father (Ajay Naidu), about his son’s gift, she takes matters into her own hands and without parental permission takes him into the Manhattan poetry center to recite his poems in the evening program. Unable to help Jimmy anymore, as his father transfers him to another school, the bummed out teacher resorts to kidnapping the child and envisions she will be the one to make sure the world doesn’t take away his path to poetry by ignoring his talent. Her crackpot plan is to run away with him, as she will care for him and transcribe his poems. Those weird actions make for Lisa’s altruism being suspect as an ill-conceived obsession or possible molestation, as she could just as easily be an exploiter as a caretaker of talent. In any case, the heroine’s quest comes into question as something unlikely to ever happen if she was sane, and what starts out as a beautiful premise has no where to go but downhill–putting a bit of a damper on a thoroughly intriguing psychological drama.

Maggie Gyllenhaal and Parker Sevak in The Kindergarten Teacher (2018)