Hollywood is certainly known for its liberal crusades . . . just ask Clint Eastwood. While there is no empty chair in Won’t Back Down, there may as well be classrooms of empty chairs (and desks) in Adams Elementary, the dysfunctional (fictional) school in the film inspired by actual events.
Disappointed with the education (or lack thereof) her daughter Malia is receiving, Maggie Gyllenhaal stars as Jamie Fitzpatrick, a struggling mother who just wants the best for her daughter. Unable to get Malia into a nearby charter school, Jamie reaches out to Adams’ teacher Nona Albert played by Academy Award Nominee Viola Davis.
A mother herself, Nona has lost her passion for teaching. When approached by Jamie, she spouts off the clichéd list of reasons for the school’s failings: apathetic parents, students and bureaucracy. But don’t fear; Hollywood has the happy-ending formula for educational crusade films.
From the almost automatic coupling of Gyllenhaal’s Fitzpatrick with Mr. Patrick, a teacher she approaches about joining her crusade, to the black and white indictment of teachers’ unions and the all too predictable ending with the swing vote dictated by a characters whose last name just had to be King, melodrama is the lesson taught by this film.
That’s not to say that with subpar material, the performances given in this film don’t rival any feel good movie you may see this year. Both Gyllenhaal and Davis shine although the latter doesn’t kick into Oscar gear until the second half the film. Wonderfully inspired performances from Oscar Isaac and Holly Hunter round out a wonderful cast. The film just doesn’t add anything to the dialogue of educational choice. Outside of an upcoming charter school vote in our community, the film seems dated. It feels as if the children the film is trying to save ultimately got left behind and would’ve been better suited to the last election than this one.
Won’t Back Down receives kudos for not sticking with the clichéd ‘white woman saves an inner city school’ storyline by pairing Davis and Gyllenhaal together but halfway through the over dramatization I was hoping to see a cameo by Michelle Pfeiffer or at least Coolio to jump up during the final school board scene and bust out “Gangsta’s Paradise”. Unfortunately this wasn’t going to be Dangerous Moms. Because the film played it safe and predictable, they were just Moms. True danger may come with an effective and wide reaching documentary on the subject.
Overall, Won’t Back Down doesn’t fail it just needs some remedial education.