‘The Kindergarten Teacher’ Makes Me Very Uncomfortable

A Creepy Maggie Gyllenhaal Is A Parent’s Second-Worst Nightmare

Instead of streaming The Kindergarten Teacher on Netflix, I wish I could have seen it with a rowdy horror movie audience. 

When Maggie Gyllenhaal rouses her favorite student from his naptime mat to join her in the bathroom while his classmates slumber on, unaware, I longed for a robust chorus of OH HELL NOs.

Don’t do it, Jimmy!!! 

And for god’s sake, don’t do it, Teacher!  You’d think a vet with near 20 years of experience would understand the risks, no matter how chaste the behind-the-closed-door encounter. May it please the court, I was just hoisting him up so he could get a giant’s eye view of the facilities.

Actually, that’s exactly what she was doing. Creepy, right?

I apologize if I’ve inadvertently triggered anyone. Gyllenhaal’s Lisa Spinelli is a predator, for sure, but it’s not sex she’s after.

What she’s attracted to is the boy’s prodigious poetic gift, so much so that she gets down on the floor of a New York City public elementary school bathroom and crawls around meowing, hoping it will arouse a spur-of-the-moment poem from a cat’s POV. 

Directed by: Sara Colangelo
Written by: Sara Colangelo, Nadav Lapid
Starring: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gael García Bernal, Ato Blankson-Wood, Michael Chernus
Running time: 96 min.


My kids attended a school quite similar to the one where Lisa works. Trust me, no adult in their right mind would do that. Ever. We held our breaths and touched as few surfaces as possible until we could get the hell out of those nasty bathrooms! (And just for the record, their teachers were by and large wonderful. But I never heard tell of one scrubbing the toilet, or brightening the windowsill with a potted sunflower, as Lisa does. That would’ve involved lingering).

In another movie, Lisa’s extramarital encounter with Gael García Bernal, her continuing-ed poetry instructor, would have been the red-hot center of her disastrous obsession. 

In this one, her obsession lies elsewhere. It’s already well established by the time they get around to lunging for each other’s buttons. Shortly thereafter at the Bowery Poetry Club, he discovers one of the many weird (platonic) ways she’s violated her tiny pupil. He’s so repulsed, he severs contact. I found some dark humor in his moral objections, given that its easy to imagine this character as a serial seducer of his adult students. I mean, he’s right, but…maybe he shouldn’t throw stones. 

The groovy continuing-ed instructor is not the only adult spooked by Lisa’s intense, mercifully one-sided passion for her tiny charge. 

The boy’s Uncle Sanjay, a newspaper copy editor she seeks out on the assumption that he’s a man of letters and thus better positioned than his nightclub-owning brother to appreciate the importance of nurturing the tot’s rare talent, listens receptively at first. But something about the tone of her assertion that Jimmy’s sexy young babysitter, Becca, is “a problematic element” who should be let go causes him to stiffen. Also, he’s the kid’s uncle.  He’s never ever set foot in the classroom.

Babysitter Becca’s only crime is that Jimmy clearly prefers her to the teacher who demands he call her to dictate any new poem he thinks up. His class has only gotten as far as the letter T when our story begins, so he can’t write them down himself.

And woe to Lisa’s pretty classroom assistant when Lisa finds out Jimmy likes her better too. 

Pity it’s not “The Deuce, where Gyllenhaal’s Candy is a great friend to the younger women, mentoring them on the porn set and gently pointing out that they don’t need to put up with harsh treatment from pimps.

Lisa has more in common with the pimps than with Candy. 

I felt a bit of sympathy for the pain of her thwarted creative impulse, helped along by the fact that I find Gyllenhaal an enormously likable performer. Ditto Michael Chernus, as the husband who gets no credit at all for listening attentively when Lisa reads poems aloud to him.

But Lisa is every public school parent’s nightmare. Well, not really. Our nightmare is that a teacher, principal, custodian, or cafeteria worker will molest our children sexually. But a teacher who plays favorites, who ignores our child in favor of some pet, that’s a legit lesser nightmare. 

Hell no!

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Ayun Halliday

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.

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