The Kindergarten Teacher ★★★½

“Kung Fu” star David Carradine, the great warrior-philosopher of the 20th century, once said: “If you can’t be the poet, be the poem.” He makes it sound so easy — as though deferring your story to someone else wouldn’t feel like an act of defenestration — but then again, the man seldom met a problem he couldn’t high-kick into submission.

Lisa Spinelli (a captivating Maggie Gyllenhaal) has no such luck. The eponymous, fortysomething educator at the heart of Sara Colangelo’s “The Kindergarten Teacher,” Lisa has spent the last 20 years of her life teaching kids the alphabet and shepherding them to the next stop on the assembly line of America’s school system, and she’s finally beginning to succumb to the banality of it all.