New Film Delves Into Children's Education In Steel Town

Thursday, 2 August 2012
The topic of school education was spotlighted two years ago in a great documentary, "Waiting for Superman". Even before that, some great films about school and teachers came out, cases in point being "Stand And Deliver" and "Lean On Me", as well as "To Sir With Love" and "Blackboard Jungle". But a new film chronicles a school needing change badly.

Inspired by true events, "Won't Back Down" (PG), tells the tale of Adams Elementary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It seems that this school doesn't quite care enough about the students, but more about the teachers getting their benefits. One teacher though does care enough about educating kids better. Meet Nora Alberts (Viola Davis), who had shown passion for teaching until the system began to deprive her energy. She also has a young man who is having trouble with math skills, as well as a destroyed marriage.

Nora meets up with a single mother, Jamie Fitzpatrick (Maggie Gyllenhaal) whose daughter attends Adams and has a dyslexic problem that her teacher doesn't understand. Attempts to talk to the principal are to no avail, thus she and Nora team up to try to fix the problem.
But they have to battle with the other teachers as well as bureaucratic policies to turn the school towards the right direction. Nora and Jamie manage to collect signatures going door to door, making for one great sequence using visual effects as the pair go from one floor to another in their attempts to obtain votes to help out.

Meantime the other teachers, which include an energetic music teacher (Oscar Issac) who does fall for Jamie; Nora's fellow teacher and friend Breena (Rosie Perez); and a very snooty teacher named Deborah (Nancy Bach) who is only concerned with getting her tenure, are scared of losing their jobs and benefits.

Finally Jamie gets in contact with the head Union official, Evelyn Riske (Holly Hunter). Evelyn tells Jamie she is fighting a losing battle, yet believes the children should be educated better than they are. Nora then approaches Olivia Perez (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), an administrator who goes by the rules but does like Nora's ideas to help the school.

It comes down to the finale, taking place at the school board with the Union members pitting against Nora, Jamie and the concerned parents who want a change for the better..

Daniel Barnz co-wrote the script and directed the film which gets the viewer involved with the story and the two leads. It is an important issue we face today as we want to have children be better educated so they can go on to have fine lives. While it is intended well, I felt that there should have been a little more meat to the story and how it strongly affects the kids.

The film does concentrate heavily on Jamie and Nora who have a common goal and have good chemistry joining forces. But I wished that some of the supporting characters were better fleshed out and not shallow like they are portrayed.

Maggie Gyllenhaal is very good as the single mother of the dyslexic child, but she also has a secret of her own that is revealed during the board meeting. She comes off as a caring person trying to balance her life having two jobs and making sure that her kid gets the education she needs.

Viola Davis is so good, turning another worthy performance of a woman who have been beaten by the current system but is ready to fight back and make her workplace shine better. She really is an inspiration here, showing grace while being wounded in life.

While it was good to see Rosie Perez again, her role is one-dimensional but does make the best of it. Oscar Issac seems charming enough and does have good chemistry with Gyllenhall, but his character doesn't have enough to do. Holly Hunter and Marrianne Jean-Baptiste do journeyman work in their roles yet the script should gave them a little more to do.

The cinematography of Ronan Osin does get the essence of the Pittsburgh streets nicely while Marcos Zarvos' score is amiable. The editing should have been a little bit tighter but that one scene of Nora and Jamie going door to door was a marvel to view.
This movie took me back to my elementary school days and looking back at that I feel that most teachers were older and didn't want to retire. I had a very bad 5th grade teacher who always wanted to use me as a whipping post. I was mostly at the wrong place at the wrong time, thus I was unjustly punished. And yes she was old; I felt like she was just collecting her paycheck and not caring for any of the kids unlike my 4th and 6th grade teachers who were young at the time and concerned.

I felt strongly that if I had the chance to do it, I would either go to a private school or be homeschooled. It seems this day and age most kids have taken that road and for the most part are successful.

"Won't Back Down" is a likable try to make the viewer understand about how schools are operated today. But I wish the film would have been given a stronger case than it does. Nonetheless I do recommend it somewhat for the performances of Gyllenhall and Davis, as well as making a good conversation point after viewing.