A precociously five-year-old is discovered by pre-school teacher Maggie Gyllenhaal in a wonderfully sensitive American remake of an Israeli original
Nadiv Lapid’s Hebrew-language The Kindergarten Teacher was one of the more unshakable films of 2015, with its wonderfully inscrutable nature,. One of the most important things that writer-director Sara Colangelo has done in her American remake is keep the central mystery intact. There is a list of small changes, some tweaks to the characters, a few added jokes, but this is very much the same movie told a second time. Is that necessary? Sure, why the hell not, especially when either version is so great. Moreover, it’s a chance to see Maggie Gyllenhaal give one of the best performances of her career.
When we first meet Lisa Spinelli she’s a caring, patient kindergarten teacher in Staten Island who takes a weekly poetry class in Manhattan. (If you are fuzzy on your geography, this means crossing the mighty New York harbor in a huge and highly photogenic orange ferry.) By the end she’s a, well … I don’t want to spoil it, but let’s just call her a social vigilante. One of her young students, Jimmy (Parker Sevak) behaves like a regular five year-old most of the time, but now and again he goes into something of a trance-like state and starts reciting poetry. His syntax and vocabulary are clearly coming from “somewhere else,” and while a lesser film would go down some sort of supernatural possession route, what drives Lisa more than anything else is her desire to archive his work.