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For as long as there have been schools, there have been good teachers
and bad teachers, involved parents and uninterested parents, naturally
gifted students and those students who struggle. Perhaps there is more
good than bad today, then again perhaps not. It can't be ignored,
though, that there are schools, and even entire areas, where students
are failing at an alarming rate. Teachers alone can't fix this. Parents
alone can't fix this. Even most students alone, barring the most
motivated and gifted among us, can't fix this. It takes good teachers,
involved parents, and students who have made a commitment to excel, to
fix this problem. That's what we get in Won't Back Down.
You might hate the supposedly anti-union message, or turn up your nose at the idea that a child is scarred for life by one bad teacher, but neither of these are reasons to disregard this movie. First of all, while the movie does spotlight the downside of teacher's unions, there is plenty of union-love as well. And secondly, one bad teacher certainly can make the difference between a child who loves school and a child who dreads it, even if it's only for one year. And one bad year of school, especially elementary school where every learning experience is a building block for the later years, can be devastating.
I am highly sensitive to movies with a heavy-handed political agenda. I honestly didn't feel that here. I didn't take this movie as a guide to removing unions from schools. What I witnessed was the idea that if parents, teachers and students band together to make their school a better place, they can hope for a brighter future. Student by student, school by school, we can improve education in America. That people want to fight over whether teachers should be protected rather than whether students should be given an opportunity to excel, well that's really the crux of the problem, now, isn't it?
Beyond the controversial topics addressed, I found this film to be very satisfying. The plot was well-developed, Viola Davis and Maggie G played well off of each other, the children were very good in their roles, and the pacing was steady. It's always inspirational to see a group of people with very little in common come together for the greater good, and if nothing else you will definitely get that here. How can we not enjoy watching parents engaged in the school system and rallying to secure the future of their children? Don't watch this to pick apart (or champion) charter schools, watch this to remember just who education is supposed to benefit. Watch this and remember that good teachers could use a little encouragement, bad teachers should be called out, the system needs to be challenged every now and then, and children will respond to their environment, whether it's positive or negative, in ways that will surprise and sometimes amaze you.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Is this movie corny, clichéd, sentimental, etc? Absolutely. Are some of
the characters one-dimensional bad guys? Yep. Is it financed by someone
with a lot of money who has his own opinion on the subject? Sure. This
is true of most of the movies coming out of Hollywood, including
"Trouble With the Curve," which isn't getting half the flack this movie
is. If you want sophistication and nuance, go see an art house film. If
you want to see a heartfelt film that raises questions about education
and the future of America's kids, you may want to give this a shot.
Some characters are pro-union, others just want what's best for their
kids, others change their minds while others don't. Some bureaucrats in
the movie are willing to help; others flatly refuse. That's also true
in real life, and all these viewpoints are represented in "Won't Back
Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a blue-collar single mom who decides to try and get support for radical changes for her daughter's elementary school, after trying and failing to get her daughter a better quality education in the current system. Joining her are Viola Davis, a veteran teacher who is beaten down, but not yet fully defeated, and Oscar Isaacs, a hunky "Teach for America" type, who doesn't want to focus on politics, at least at first. Other supporting players include Rosie Perez, Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Holly Hunter, who all do a great job with an admittedly TV-movie of the week type plot and script, and I, for one, didn't check my watch once during the film.
The standout here is Davis, whose mother was a well-loved teacher, and who goes home and digs out some new material with which to challenge her young students, even before she agrees to the takeover plan. "We're all going to work a lot harder around here," she informs her class. "Including me." It's easier, in my opinion, to play the stereotypical young idealist crusader, whether teacher or parent, but how many movies flesh out the role of the crusty veteran? One message of the film, is that you don't have to wait for someone to change things for you. Even when everything around you is going downhill, an "average" person can still summon the strength to make a change in the quality of someone's life, whether big or small. And that's a message that's always welcome, if you ask me.
Reading some of the reviews here and elsewhere I was getting a feeling
some people simply saw another film under the same title for I don't
have another plausible explanation for the shortsightedness and
narrow-mindedness of some.
The film is stunning in its emotional impact, immaculately written and stupendously directed, with incredible one-shots, meticulously motivated hand-helds, color nuances (overlooked by many) and above all breathtakingly thorough and subtle work with the cast. In the world of "block-and-shoots" and gimmicky self-indulgent "me-me-me's" this rare old school picture stands out and certainly makes many uncomfortable for it appeals to something buried under layers of tweets, pretense, status, rat races and such - the human heart. Human connection. This is the most life-affirming American film I have seen in over a decade without it getting too preachy, cheesy or boring. No chemistry between Maggie and Viola? That comment is beyond me. They are so different, they are so raw and painfully believable on their own, that their union gains power via this deliberate diversity of their characters. There is not a single face in a single frame that is not totally "there", the committed "non-background" nature of supporting cast and extras makes an incredibly detailed background, full of nuance, ever breathing and alive. As is every shot of the film.
The last comment I will afford regards the union matter. First if all - if someone really believes this movie is about unions (or against them) - I have nothing to tell them. They will be as deaf to my voice as they are to the writers'/director's which tells a story of mother's love, standing up for your rights, having hope and faith and moving mountains if necessary - if the loved one needs that. The school is just a background for all that to unfold, a setting, a subplot to me. Performances are Oscar-worthy, I could go on for pages and scene by scene describe the beauty and power of them (alas, only 1000 characters here). And one more word on the union issue - what makes this film so impactive and real is how valid both points are and how the film's creators made sure that nothing about that is black and white and took time to support and justify both.
So, if you are not ashamed to cry in a theater, if you are ready to embark on an emotional journey, if you are not afraid to think and doubt - go see this brilliant work of art.
While the actors in this film tug at our hearts, the force feeding of incomplete perspective causes one to question: Are we watching a screen play or are we getting played? The bad guys are too bad, and the good guys are too good. The film is also unbelievable in that the parents are without any alternatives but a drastic one. I left the theater with a disturbing feeling, not about our schools, but about the integrity of the producers, writers and director. The opening should have a SUPER that reads, A paid political announcement. You can get your money back from the management. What a waste of effort on such a timely issue as the quality of our children's education. So in the end a story about two caring women and their struggle to fix their school, is about a billionaire fixing the audience, truly an exploitation film.
On the surface, what we have with "Won't Back Down" is yet another
"fight the system" movie, and another one that deals with problems in
schools - schools that are run by administrators and school boards who
really don't want to listen to parents and their concerns, and filled
with unmotivated teachers who are there to collect a paycheque and who,
for the most part, don't really care all that much about the students
they're supposed to be teaching. That's a pretty standard story. Like
most of them, this is "inspired by true events" (another line that by
now produces mostly a barely stifled yawn from me.) Now, in truth, this
is based on actual events in the sense that the fictional John Adams
Elementary School is a sort of composite school, with the teachers and
parents also being composite, and the movie depicts the kind of
struggle that went on in several schools in California (although,
intriguingly enough, the movie is set in Pennsylvania) as parents tried
to take advantage of new laws to allow them to essentially take over
schools that were underperforming.
The whole "charter school" thing is foreign to me, since I'm not an American. I can imagine that trying to do this would be a difficult undertaking, and the movie points out (probably accurately) the roadblocks put up along the way by school boards and teachers' unions. The leads were Maggie Gyllenhall as Jamie Fitzpatrick, whose daughter is dyslexic, and Viola Davis as Nona Alberts, a teacher at Adams with a learning disabled son, who becomes convinced that Jamie is right. The two form an alliance to convince teachers and parents to sign on to the idea to force a vote by the school board on the takeover. Gyllenhall and Davis were both very good in the roles. The movie does what most "fight the system" movies do - it gets the viewer rooting for the underdog who's taking on the evil system.
This does, however, come across as heavy-handed and politically motivated, and certainly it's completely unsympathetic to unions. In fact, I spent most of the 2 hour run time feeling as if I was watching a never-ending conservative TV commercial, blasting away at the evils of unions and big government. The movie makes some valid points and raises some valid issues. What do we do about public schools that just aren't turning out educated kids? What do we do about unmotivated teachers who are protected by their union at the expense of their students? What do we do about school boards (or other levels of government) that just won't listen to concerns and follow their own agendas? All valid issues to discuss and debate. But they took this movie over in a way that made this whole movie seem too political, and in the end it turned out to be not so much inspiring as irritating to be perfectly honest. (4/10)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Won't Back Down" stars Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis as a pair of
women who attempt to transform a failing public school. Though faced
with complacent teachers, corrupt principals and intractable unions,
the duo succeed in using "parent trigger laws" to form a "charter
school". Such schools wrestle administrative control away from the
state and toward other concerned parties.
A number of recent films have touted the merits of charter schools ("The Lottery", "Waiting for Superman", "The Cartel" etc). Most of these films are funded by millionaires, billionaires and conservative lobbying groups. All present charter schools as being "good alternatives" to "inept government schools" and their "corrupt teachers' unions". In reality, though, charter schools have become yet another means of further monetising society, many run for profit by corporations who have become expert at siphoning public money. Though conceived with good intentions to provide more power and freedom to teachers these schools have increasingly become a tool to break up public education, offer lucrative supply contracts to partner companies and rake in profits.
Unsurprisingly, most of these films delight in attacking teachers. Teachers, who are faced with increasingly slashed salaries and pensions, and who have repeatedly had their collective bargaining rights weakened (or outright abolished), are presented as villains. Rather than factors like poverty and under-funding, "failing schools" are exclusively "their fault". The cure? More privatisation. This has been standard operating procedure for several decades: make sure things don't work, wait for people to get angry and then hand the reigns over to private capital.
"Won't Back Down" is engaging, well-shot and features wonderful performances by Davis and Gyllenhaal. Like most films which pretend to be about "social issues" and "the contemporary problems of ordinary Americans", it is also superficial, sanitised, kowtows to the status quo and was funded by those with a clear agenda (conservative billionaires Rupert Murdoch and Philip Anschtuz). Today, the homogeneity of both the classroom and cinema are in many ways a result of similar systems of financing, distribution and exclusivity; capitalism's organisational models breed specific outcomes. The film co-stars Oscar Isaac and Holly Hunter. Both play unionists who learn the errors of their ways. Sneaky.
7.5/10 See "Half Nelson" and "Detachment".
If not for the emotional resiliency of the two lead actresses, this
2012 feel-good drama about the reformation of a failing inner-city
Pittsburgh school would come across as no more than a polemic. However,
Maggie Gyllenhaal ("The Dark Knight") and Viola Davis ("The Help")
bring enough intense fervor to their roles of parent and teacher that
this becomes a creditable film if not all that memorable. Director and
co-screenwriter Daniel Barnz doesn't help matters much by stacking the
deck so predictably in the script (co-written with Brin Hill) while
tackling a serious exposition problem with a lot of education jargon
that feels like it requires the viewer to take some preparation exam to
watch it. Watching Davis Guggenheim's 2010 documentary, "Waiting for
'Superman'", is helpful since it covers similar territory by showing
how students strive to become accepted into a charter school.
The plot here takes a more contrived route as it focuses on Jamie, a single mom holding down two jobs while becoming increasingly concerned about the lack of attention her eight-year-old, Malia, receives from her teachers in treating her dyslexia and dealing with bullies. Through happenstance, she finds a little-known piece of legislation based on California's "parent trigger" law, which allows parents and teachers, under certain circumstances and after rounds of approvals, to take over schools and run them entirely. This motivates Jamie to partner with Nona, a teacher at Malia's school, who has similar frustrations from an insider's perspective but has been stymied time and again by the system. The movie then takes us on their journey running through all the bureaucratic red tape that you would expect from an inspirationally- minded drama.
I give credit to Barnz and Hill for at least presenting a compelling argument against the cause by showing how the teachers' union would suffer major setbacks along the way. As Jamie, Gyllenhaal does her best work since her compelling turn as the struggling drug addict-mother in 2006's "Sherrybaby". She brings loose-limbed passion to her character's relentless drive toward realizing a charter school for her daughter. At first, Davis appears underserved by the script, but this actress has no problem conveying the gravitas and compassion needed to make Nona's evolution feel realistic. As Evelyn, the president of the teachers' union, Holly Hunter ("Broadcast News") - who would have likely played Jamie a couple of decades ago brings palpable conviction to her character's increasing moral conflict. It's good to see Rosie Perez ("Fearless") again on screen as Nona's sympathetic fellow teacher. Other supporting turns amount to stereotypes as dictated by the script. The subject of the film is quite worthwhile, but the treatment needed far more texture.
Everyone knows that inner-city schools aren't making the grade. This movie wants to make it appear that teachers who literally do nothing all day is the reason for it. In the movie the charter school teachers are just delightful and the public school teachers are lazy and evil (aside from the cute guy teacher that sings in class). It's silly to the point of being offensive. This movie has an agenda and it's not even hidden. We need a movie about the rash of failing students, families, and communities, not failing schools, just to balance the propaganda spewed here. Many of the problems highlighted in this film are either untrue or exaggerated to a ridiculous extent. This is the typical message that I would expect from a propaganda film: "Blame everyone else for the problems I have". Work hard in school and maybe you won't be stuck in a low-paying job watching your kid struggle in the same way that you did.
A two-hour-long movie would be expected to have its high points and low
points, but KIDS FIRST! youth film critic Anthony Aranda says his
favorite "part" is, actually, the entire two hours. The 10-year-old
sees this as a film that, he says, "can teach people a lot."
And this Twentieth Century Fox release has sparked some discussion by parents who, also, want to make sure their kids' schools are the best they can be. In today's economic climate of budget cuts, it's a strong reminder of how important education is.
Won't Back Down Reviewed by Anthony Aranda See his full review on video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zR_M4vA7r20
This movie is awesome. I love it because it has lots of emotion and it's all because a kid has a terrible school and needs a new one so his mom and a teacher help, and I think that is great.
This movie is all about a kid who has a terrible school. So her mom and a teacher who works at the school NEWSLETTER BREAK think it's a bad school, so they go against the school to try to make a better one. They have to go through a lot to help the mom's daughter as well as the other kids at the school.
Some of the main characters in the movie are Jamie (the mom, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal), Malia (the daughter, played by Emily Alyn Lind), Nona and Michael. My favorite character is Jamie because she cares so much about her daughter that she works very hard to make a new school for her daughter and to shut down the other school named Adams. How she does this is by writing down tons of paperwork, and instead of sleeping she has to go to every house to see if they could team up with her. Luckily, she has a partner named Nona.
I could not pick a favorite part because the movie is so good that the whole movie is my favorite part. If I have to pick a favorite, I would probably say when Jamie has a big party to try to convince people to go against the school. There are cookies, a news team, shirts, FREE rulers and, to top it all off, Jamie gives a speech on why they should shut down Adams and build a new school.
I would recommend this movie for ages 7 and up because it's really made for an older audience. I still like it a lot and I think that my brother might like it, too, and he's 7, so 7 and up is good. The moral of the movie is really good and can teach people a lot. Go out and see this movie; it comes out in theaters on Sept. 28.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Won't Back Down (2012): Dir: Daniel Barnz / Cast: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Oscar Isaac, Holly Hunter, Rosie Perez: Boring drama about persistence. The message is inspiring but like crap such as Fireproof it seems content on beating viewers over the head with its message. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a single mother whose daughter has dyslexia and struggles in school. Viola Davis plays a teacher whose son also suffers learning disabilities. Together they attempt to change the school, which comes into conflict with the unions and labor boards. We applaud the message, but elements of the opposing factors earn points in their arguments as well. The concept has appeal but the story is shallow and feels bland even in its location work. Director Daniel Barnz previously made another low key film called Beastly. This is not much of an improvement. We know where it is headed and it comes off as corny and over the top. Viola Davis is the only casting that works. She has doubts over the situation yet she believes in it. Her home life with her son and her separation with her husband add a believable quality. Gyllenhaal is also a wonderful actress but here she is subdued in a lame predictable romance and media outbursts that are laughable. Oscar Isaac is a waste as a music teacher who is more or less there to romance Gyllenhaal. Holly Hunter has a standard role of union board member. Rosie Perez plays a co-worker who lines one of either side of the mud slingers. The education theme is commendable but the screenplay is about as boring as a third grade book report. Score: 4 ½ / 10
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