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“Maggie Gyllenhaal gives her best film performance in years as Lisa Spinelli, a 40-year-old Staten Island teacher who is somewhat adrift in life. Her teenage kids are more invested in Instagram than family dinners and she’s not doing as well as she’d like in her poetry class (taught by Gael García Bernal). One day after school, she hears one of her five-year-old students, a sweet boy named Jimmy Roy, recite a poem. It’s a beauty. She becomes fascinated by this child who seems to enter a trance and produce gorgeous, pure art… Lisa becomes convinced that Jimmy is a once-in-a-generation talent, and she’s going to do whatever it takes to help that flower grow. And she’ll push back against everyone who stands in her way, even if it destroys her life.
Gyllenhaal, appearing in every single scene of the film, gives a completely committed, three-dimensional performance... It’s a performance always on the edge of danger as we worry with increasing alarm that Lisa is going to do something very, very wrong. It’s a thriller almost, but it’s suspense that's borne out of human need for something real in a world that feels increasingly fake.” — Brian Tallerico, Rogerebert.com