An arrogant and unorthodox teacher returns as principal to the idyllic high school from which he had earlier been fired to find it a den of drug abuse, gang violence, and urban despair. Eventually he is successful but unorthodox methods lead to a clash with city officials that threatens to undo all his efforts. Based on a true story.Written by
Keith Loh <email@example.com>
According to a 3 Mar 1989 LA Times article, high school principal Joe Clark's life story rights were optioned by Universal Pictures in 1984, but the project was stalled. In 1986, Warner Bros. and producer Norman Twain took over the rights, paying Clark $15,000 and a "small" percentage of the film's gross. Sydney Poitier was Warner Bros.' first choice for the role of "Joe Clark," but the actor turned it down because he did not agree with Clark's politics. Bill Cosby was approached next, but filmmakers determined that the performer's energy was too low, so Eddie Murphy was considered; however, Murphy's contract with Paramount Pictures barred him from appearing in a Warner Bros. production. Danny Glover was also named as a contender, but the actor was expected to star in the upcoming Warner Bros. Lethal Weapon sequel. Morgan Freeman, who had recently won an Obie award for his off-Broadway performance in Driving Miss Daisy, was cast after the others were ruled out, although producer Twain insisted that Freeman was always his first choice. In preparation for the role, Freeman shadowed Clark for several weeks at Eastside High School in Paterson, NJ, where the film was also shot. Eastside students, and high school students from neighboring New Jersey and New York schools, portrayed most of the teenagers in the film, with lead roles going to first-time actors discovered at open auditions. See more »
Since crack is a highly addictive substance, Thomas Sams wouldn't have been able to detox and quit cold turkey in such a short period of time. See more »
[as the crowd is chanting "FREE MR. CLARK"]
Listen to me! People, please! You must all disperse and return to your homes! Your presence here is helping no one! Why don't you use your brains and listen?
[stepping up to take the megaphone and turn on the siren]
Everybody, come on, listen up! Now let's just settle down, give her a chance to talk. She might actually have something to say. Now everybody just chill, settle down, and let's listen to the old loudmouth wench!
[...] See more »
I Ain't Makin' It
Performed by Stetsasonic
Produced by Daddy-O and DBC
Courtesy of Tommy Boy Records
Written by Arnold Hamilton, Bob Coulter and Daddy-O (as Glenn Bolton) See more »
Despite a shaky script, Morgan Freeman gives a terrific performance in an intense, challenging role
Lean on Me is based around the experiences of Joe Clark (Morgan Freeman), who becomes the principal of a destitute New Jersey high school plagued with violence, drugs, and abysmal academic performance. Clark is given the daunting task of bringing student's test scores up to the minimum acceptable level within one school year or the school will be taken over by the state.
Clark is fiercely strict and demanding towards both his students and teachers. This makes him the target of countless parents, board members, civil servants, and other teachers determined to bring him and his radical new style down. Despite outside resistance Clark becomes a pillar of hope for numerous students inspired by his harsh but ultimately uplifting demands for disciple, self betterment, and loyalty to their school and educational achievement.
What sets Lean on Me apart from numerous other sentimental inspirational flicks is the unconventional style of Clark and Morgan Freeman's masterful portrayal of him. Yes this is the drill sergeant of miracle workers if ever there was one. From tone to mannerisms Joe Clark is given a distinctive ambiance, Morgan Freemen IS the dominating force behind this entire film.
And this is where the film stumbles somewhat. None of the supporting characters are given enough development to really set them apart as individuals. The closest we get is with a bright young girl trying her best to succeed at school despite numerous domestic problems at home. She is won over by Clark almost immediately coming to view him as a mentor/father figure. The problem is that her subplot like the others becomes neglected in the latter half of the film and is never given enough meaningful resolution to make the final scenes believable. Its like going from point A to point C while ignoring B.
I also question the wisdom in using an imaginary plot point (the supposed school take over) and exaggerating the level of the student's academic improvement. It cheapens the genuine accomplishments of the school and clashes with the hard-edged momentum of Joe Clark. The story is worthy in of itself and didn't benefit from being exaggerated for dramatics.
Lean on Me clearly could have been much more than what it is. But faults aside I would still highly recommend it to see Freeman's Oscar worthy performance.
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