What Is ‘The Kindergarten Teacher’ on Netflix About?

The Kindergarten Teacher, featuring Maggie Gyllenhaal in the title role, centers on the relationship between a teacher and the 5-year-old student that she sees as a poetic prodigy. The Netflix original explores Lisa Spinelli (Gyllenhaal) as teacher, mother, and wife, but focuses on the great lengths she’s willing to go to protect and nurture her student’s talent.

Maggie Gyllenhaal at the 2018 BFI London Film Festival
Maggie Gyllenhaal at the 2018 BFI London Film Festival | Getty Images

From the start, it becomes clear that Lisa Spinelli has a distant relationship with her immediate family; she is trapped in a loveless marriage, and her kids seem to be nothing more than unmotivated Instagram scrollers. Not to mention, she can’t seem to escape her unininspired day-to-day existence as a kindergarten teacher.

At nights, Spinelli attends a poetry workshop – led by a rather handsome instructor – to fuel her creativity and expand her mind. However, as determined as she may be, her work lacks originality.

One afternoon, after instruction has ended for the day, she overhears her student – in a barely audible mumble – recite an original poem. The movie takes off when she presents this poem in her weekly poetry workshop. All attendees praise the piece, and Spinelli sets off on her mission to bring her student’s genius into the light.

Why should you watch ‘The Kindergarten Teacher?’

Aside from Gyllenhaal’s masterful performance – weaved with equal parts subtlety and assertion – this movie is unique because it blurs the line between advocate and obsessor.

At one point, Gyllenhaal kidnaps the boy from school to escort him to a poetry reading stocked with industry professionals. And this isn’t even the biggest or most shocking scene; it’s in the trailer.

The Kindergarten Teacher questions the student-teacher dynamic and asks where the boundary lies between teacher and parent, educator and influencer, protector and oppressor. The movie shows Spinelli taking a few steps too far, but the story moves forward with such a steady grace. Viewers are left to wonder whether she’s completely insane, or if she simply got lost in the gravitas of it all.

‘The Kindergarten Teacher’ full cast

Parker Sevak stars as Jimmy Roy, Spinelli’s 5-year-old poetic prodigy. The Kindergarten Teacher is Parker Sevak’s film debut; however, some fairly well-versed cast members comprise the rest of the ensemble.

In addition to Gyllenhaal (Mona Lisa Smile, The Dark Knight, Donnie Darko), the film features a few other faces you’re likely to recognize. Gael Garcia Bernal plays the poetry workshop instructor. Most recently starring as Maestro Rodrigo in Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle, you may also remember him from The Motorcycle Diaries, Babel, or A Little Bit of Heaven.

Rosa Salazar plays Jimmy Roy’s nanny. Salazar stars as the lead character in Alita: Battle Angel, which hit theaters this month and opened to pretty solid reviews amongst everyday viewers and critics alike. She also portrayed the tough and unpredictable Lucy in the Netflix hit Bird Box starring Sandra Bullock and John Malkovich.

Michael Chernus (Spiderman: Homecoming, Captain Phillips), Sam Jules, and Daisy Tahan round out the main cast as Lisa’s husband, son, and daughter respectively.

Is ‘The Kindergarten Teacher’ nominated for any Oscars?

Unfortunately, ‘The Kindergarten Teacher’ is one of the several movies that critics feel was snubbed for Oscar nominations this season. The film’s director won this year’s Sundance Film Festival Award, and the film was nominated for both a Ghent International Film Festival Award and a Toronto International Film Festival Award, according to IMDb.

Though gaining recognition in less widespread circles and receiving a whopping 88% average from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, the cast and crew received no Oscar nominations. Hailed as an original and masterful work of art, The Kindergarten Teacher shows that, sometimes, the biggest night of the year in film gets it wrong.

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