I have a poem!

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The Kindergarten Teacher is an interesting film, and marks a strong return for Maggie Gyllenhaal. Gyllenhaal plays Lisa Spinelli, a kindergarten teacher who has taken an interest in writing poetry. She attends (weekly?) night classes, and seems to want to become more scholarly. Her other classmates belittle her work as too derivative, and this seems to be one of many things in Lisa’s life that are making her somewhat unsatisfied.

A student of hers, Jimmy (who’s father/caregiver(s) are always late) begins creating poetry seemingly out of nowhere. She steals one of his poems and shares it with the class, who all fall in love with it. Lisa begins prompting and encouraging Jimmy to create more, and becomes more intrusive into his life as she becomes certain that he is a prodigy.

The concept of the film is quite interesting, and there are a lot of arguments present here. However, the film is more or less at war with itself, and this makes many of the arguments somewhat pointless. Lisa is at once stealing from Jimmy while trying to showcase his talents. I knew the basic plot of the film before seeing it, but was quite surprised at her intellectual theft. For me, the stealing of ideas (and then her decision to make Jimmy read publicly) don’t seem to make a lot of sense when juxtaposed.

Another issue I had with the film is that there is no anchor in the movie for us to really latch onto. The presentation of the public school system is simply horrid—and Lisa’s sneaking off with Jimmy should have rang alarm bells immediately. The film appears to be set in the 2010s, so people would be ever-vigilant of paying attention to a teacher basically abducting a child from nap-time every day. Lisa’s student teacher notices Lisa taking Jimmy aside, and I had figured something would come of it, but nope. I guess the TA decided it wasn’t important?

The creative writing class also seems more like a Kafkaesque nightmare than anything dealing with learning. The instructor is grossly unethical, and the other students just kind of seem like jackasses. The whole movie seems to be wanting to say that art is important and we should celebrate artists while blowing a big watery dump all over the community.

I am not entirely clear if we are supposed to support Lisa or not (mainly because the film can’t seem to make up its mind). While her actions are clearly unethical (and often illegal) we also get forced scenes that are meant to make us wonder if perhaps she was in the right all along. The film tries too hard to have different arguments present that it just boils down to: everyone sucks.

Perhaps the most annoying feature about this film is how damn good the acting is. Gyllenhaal in particular showcases a deeply conflicted and unhappy woman who clings desperately to something she believes in. A lot of the writing is great, as are many of the scenes. We have great acting in an okay film. This one boasts quite a high score on RT, and I can understand why. It is one of those two-steps-forward-one-step-back sort of deals here. I liked it, but didn’t at the same time.

I think your mileage will vary.

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