Throughout the history of cinema, critics have made arguments for actors and actresses making bad films into good ones or vice versa, but I haven't had many of those experiences, personally. If a film is bad, it's within the filmmaking itself and the screenplay. A bad performance doesn't make a fantastic film automatically terrible in my opinion, but I can admit when a mediocre movie is accented by a stellar lead performance. While I didn't dislike The Kindergarten Teacher, I have to admit that it was a slightly frustrating experience. Due to how I felt the movie played out as a whole, I can't quite give this one a glaring recommendation, but if you're a fan of the dramatic genre, you may find yourself enjoying it more than myself. Here's why I can admit this is a very well-done movie, but why it didn't quite sit well with me.
Following Lisa Spinelli (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a teacher who believes one of her young students may be gifted, The Kindergarten Teacher is truly about the fact that this woman has conflicted emotions toward the entire situation. Young Jimmy Roy is the centrepiece for this story and although their scenes together are easily the best in the movie, the third act of this film feels very odd. Without ruining anything, this story takes a turn that had me strongly disliking the actions of the main character in Lisa, which left me not caring about any of the consequences in the final few moments. This film started out strong but lost my interest by the final act, and that's pretty much the opposite of what you'd want a movie to do. For that reason alone, my enthusiasm for this film is not very high.
Although I haven't seen Maggie Gyllenhaal's filmography to the point of saying I'm a huge fan of hers, her performance here is on the verge of incredible. As I mentioned, I thoroughly disliked her character, but that's also due to her fantastic performance. Whether she was at home with her boring husband and kids or sitting in class and making you hate her actions, I was enthralled by the way she was bringing this character to life. I can't see the movie itself being considered for many awards this year, but if for nothing else, this performance definitely deserves some attention by voters.
Having a child prodigy as the central focus of your film has always been an intriguing plot device in my opinion. There are so many ways your story can take a dramatic turn, but when the turn it takes is to simply exploit the talents of a young child for personal gain, I found that to be extremely distasteful as a premise. I understand that's what writer/director Sara Colangelo was going for (and quite well if I may add), but even though something is well made, it doesn't automatically make me enjoy what I'm watching.
In the end, The Kindergarten Teacher starts off as a very strong drama with believable performances all around and quite solid direction, but it spirals out of control by the third act. My personal feelings about the way this film ends may be getting the better of me here, but it's really hard to ignore how strongly I felt about a few moments that affected my overall enjoyment. I can clearly see the effort that went into this film and some viewers may love every bit of this movie, so I'll give it a mild recommendation with an asterisk on the conclusion of the movie. Due to the talent on and off the screen, I am slightly disappointed with how I feel about this movie overall.
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