Jungle
The First Grader

The First Grader

Movie
Director(s): 
Genre: 
In Theatres: 
May 20, 2011
Grade:
B+
Running Time: 
103 minutes

For most of us, we experience first grade around the age of six or seven. For Kimani Maruge, he was 84. Based on a true story, The First Grader explores the education system in a small Kenyan village as standards are broken and a man dreams to have the same opportunity as everyone else.

When a government ordinance provides free schooling for everyone, 84-year-old Maruge (Oliver Litondo) takes it upon himself to get an education he previously could never afford. Naturally, an old man going to school with little kids isn’t going to sit over well with the rest of the community but with the help of Teacher Jane (Naomie Harris), he is able to enroll in school where he wants to learn to read and write.

The First Grader plays out like part drama and part documentary. Everything feels so realistic, mostly because is technically is. The film was shot on location in Kenya with real Kenyan school children who had no acting experience whatsoever. As a result, the children are the heart of the film. You’ll instantly fall in love with them from the moment they step on screen with their eager eyes and adorable faces.

Maruge himself is quite the character as well. He isn’t just some poor old man from off the streets. He’s an ex Mau Mau freedom fighter who fought against the British colonizers in the 1950s. Periodically the film reveals through flashbacks Maruge’s past and the events of the uprising. At times it can be quite disturbing and somewhat of a dramatic shift from the educational aspect of the film.

Sure, The First Grader may be entertaining but it’s so much more than that as well. It’s an inspiring film that will make you think twice about taking education for granted and will give you a new look on the school system. It isn’t sugarcoated with special effects or A-list celebrities; it’s simply a good story that’ll teach you more than first grade ever did before.

Be sure and check out our interview with director Justin Chadwick about The First Grader!

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Matt Rodriguez
Review by Matt Rodriguez
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