This over the top movie of empowerment and inspiration in regards to an apparently failing public school system in the US was released today. While I liked Won’t Back Down as a whole, it has received quite a lot of controversy and criticism in the US. People even showed up to protest it’s premiere with picket signs. The film attempts to critique the difficulty faced in the public school system because of teachers unions. Honestly, I don’t really feel like touching on that subject as I don’t know too much about it. Instead, I’m going to ignore the “based on a true story” nonsense and just review the film as it is.
Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Jamie Fitzpatrick, a single mom who is fed up with the lack of attention her daughter is receiving in her public school class and is unable to afford private school for her daughter. I found her performance in this film to be extremely heartwarming and endearing. She really does play a fantastic mother role and I truly believed she cared about her daughter more than anything.
Jamie asks for support from the initially reluctant Nona (Viola Davis) to take over their school using the “fail safe” law which is actually based on a real law being fought in court in California. If the two of them get enough support from parents and teachers at the school they would be able to force the school board to vote on their proposal and set up their school as a charter institution. Facing opposition from the local teacher’s union, Jamie soon receives a bribe to end her quest in the form of a full tuition for her daughter to attend a local private school where she would receive the attention she needs.
The story of these two women and their struggle to fight for their kids education is extremely heartwarming and moving and while that was certainly a nice touch to the film, it did paint a really negative picture of teachers. It sort of broke the whole profession of teaching down to a calling, and said that if you weren’t willing to stay after school hours to teach children, or give your class your home phone number so they could call you for help while they did their homework that you weren’t meant to be a teacher. Don’t get me wrong, those people are inspiring teachers and I know we all remember our favorite teachers from school who went the extra mile for our education, but teaching is a job like every other and should be looked at as such. It is not like a religious position where you got the call of God to serve unwaveringly. It’s a job, and if you love doing it and you’re passionate about it, even better.
Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis both deliver outstanding performances that will have you engaged for the full length of the film. The real break out star for me was Jamie’s daughter Malia (Emily Alyn Lind). It takes a lot of skill at that young age to be convincingly dyslexic and I thought she did a fantastic job.
This movie is cute, it’s heartwarming and empowering and if you don’t think too much into the real life ramifications and legal activity surrounding this debate then I think you would really enjoy it. There were definitely some fantastic performances. Having said that, if you’re a union supporter or a teacher you might not enjoy the way both of them are portrayed and should probably sit this one out.
Movie Rating: 2.5/5 stars