Metascore
56

Mixed or average reviews - based on 21 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 9 out of 21
  2. Negative: 1 out of 21
  1. Reviewed by: Lawrence Toppman
    May 26, 2011
    88
    I have never seen elementary schoolers more passionate about education than the ones I met at a school in rural Kenya, not far from the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro.
  2. Reviewed by: Betsy Sharkey
    May 13, 2011
    80
    Anchored by a lovely performance from Oliver Litondo as Maruge and an exuberant Naomie Harris as Jane Obinchu, the school principal who champions his cause, the result is a tearful, joyful, imperfect, yet nearly irresistible ode to the human spirit.
  3. Reviewed by: Stephen Farber
    May 9, 2011
    80
    Chadwick strikes a perfect balance between humor and tragic gravity, and the result is that an unknown story seems certain to stir the hearts of audiences worldwide.
  4. Reviewed by: Peter Debruge
    May 9, 2011
    80
    The uplifting true story of world's oldest primary school student, The First Grader reels you in with its human-interest hook, but packs an even more vital agenda: enlisting Kenyan locals to share little-known details of their nation's independence.
  5. Reviewed by: Rick Groen
    May 20, 2011
    75
    This is potentially compelling, but truncated flashbacks are far too crude a mechanism for exploring not only the intricacies of that tumultuous period in Kenyan history but also its ongoing legacy.
  6. Reviewed by: Amy Biancolli
    May 20, 2011
    75
    For all of its brutal flashbacks and heavy-handed devices, The First Grader works best when it works quietly.
  7. Reviewed by: Peter Rainer
    May 14, 2011
    67
    Better than bland but never quite rises above the level of a pretty good TV movie of the week.
  8. Reviewed by: Alison Willmore
    May 12, 2011
    67
    The First Grader offers a tumultuous but uplifting journey.
  9. Reviewed by: Roger Moore
    May 24, 2011
    63
    Never graduates to the uplifting tale it sets out to be.
  10. Reviewed by: Ian Freer
    Jun 20, 2011
    60
    An amazing tru-life story that's Hollywoodised within an inch of its life. A missed opportunity for something really special.
  11. Reviewed by: Joe Neumaier
    May 13, 2011
    60
    Director Justin Chadwick ("The Other Boleyn Girl") shows admirable restraint bringing this true story to the screen, and Litando does much with glimmers of emotion and wells of dignity.
  12. Reviewed by: Lisa Schwarzbaum
    May 11, 2011
    58
    Plays more like a teaching tool than a dynamic drama.
  13. Reviewed by: Kimberley Jones
    May 26, 2011
    50
    We have pretty much all the information we need within the first half-hour, which undercuts the supposedly climactic reveal of the contents of Maruge's letter and renders the torturous flashbacks unnecessary for narrative purposes. And not a little bit sadomasochistic, too – an ill fit for a PG-13 family film.
  14. Reviewed by: Mark Feeney
    May 19, 2011
    50
    You marvel all the more at Litondo's and Harris's performances, considering how much claptrap Ann Peacock's script requires them to put up with.
  15. Reviewed by: J.R. Jones
    May 19, 2011
    50
    The true story of Kimani N'gan'ga Maruge, an 84-year-old Kenyan who entered primary school in hope of learning to read, inspired this pleasant but routine exercise in third-world uplift.
  16. Reviewed by: John P. McCarthy
    May 13, 2011
    50
    Even given narrative license, South African-born screenwriter Ann Peacock has trouble cobbling together a truly compelling plot that deals with Kenyan history, including tribalism, in a detailed way.
  17. Reviewed by: V.A. Musetto
    May 13, 2011
    50
    Too bad the script is predictable at every turn.
  18. Reviewed by: A.O. Scott
    May 12, 2011
    50
    This ambition - to provoke thought while tugging at heartstrings - makes The First Grader fascinating and frustrating in almost equal measure.
  19. Reviewed by: Eric Hynes
    May 10, 2011
    40
    A lot of history gets horned into this undeniably inspirational parable, though slick execution and simplistic storytelling make it a lesson suitable only for easily impressed elementary-school students.
  20. Reviewed by: Michelle Orange
    May 10, 2011
    40
    Chadwick veers frequently into flashbacks to Maruge's past as a Mau Mau resistance fighter-mostly prolonged scenes of torture and violence that do little to inform or propel the present-day story. Poorly defined tribal lines flare up, and Jane's life is threatened, the point at which the script's Hollywood contrivances open up and swallow this often charming film whole.
  21. Reviewed by: Michael O'Sullivan
    May 19, 2011
    38
    It's heartwarming. But the film never really takes fire.
User Score
7.2

Generally favorable reviews- based on 5 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 2 out of 2
  2. Mixed: 0 out of 2
  3. Negative: 0 out of 2
  1. Aug 18, 2014
    10
    It States the truth in words we cant explain with our own voice so this movie helps us explain it, and the British are in trouble :P, also iIt States the truth in words we cant explain with our own voice so this movie helps us explain it, and the British are in trouble :P, also i think learning has no age Full Review »
  2. Jun 23, 2011
    10
    It was so refreshing to see this movie! It kept me wondering what would happen next and I so enjoyed the true story that was told! I am onlyIt was so refreshing to see this movie! It kept me wondering what would happen next and I so enjoyed the true story that was told! I am only sad that the film marketing has been so poor and also so disgusted with the big critic reviews who gave mixed reviews! It was so nice to see a movie without the Hollywood trappings for glitz and shock that cheapens so much of what is out there! I would love more movies that challenge you to care more and make a difference in this world!!! Full Review »