“Won’t Back Down” stars Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis as a parent and a teacher, respectively, who get fed up with the conditions and the poor results of the school they’re both involved with. Out of frustration with the ruling bureaucracy, they take matters into their own hands and attempt to overtake control of the school via their State’s “Parent Trigger” law. Essentially, if they can muster enough support for their proposal and the school board approves their motion, they can disband the current school administration and turn the school into a charter school.
It’s a well acted, if heavy-handed movie. It raises numerous issues with the educational system, without presenting any valid solutions. Still though, the earnestness of the performances, and the fact that for the most part they try to avoid shameless emotional manipulation and stick to a relatively plausible story made for an enjoyable watch for me.
When Jamie Fitzpatrick’s (Maggie Gyllenhaal) daughter enters a new school, she experiences difficulty related to dyslexia. The teacher in her class is apathetic, treating her job as more of a classroom monitor than educator. It runs out that the majority of the teachers at the school have given up, and the school on the whole has been receiving failing marks for years. As Jamie investigates in an effort to improve her daughter’s education, she is stymied by the school’s administration. However, during the course of her efforts she learns that there’s a law in her state which allows parents – in conjunction with the staff of the school – to petition the school board to assume control of a failing school.
She finds an ally in a teacher (Viola Davis) who can relate to the frustration of finding quality education for a challenged child. Together the two of them set out to obtain the requisite number of parent signatures, and secure the support of half of the teachers at the school. Blocking their way is the local teachers union, who stoops to several underhanded tactics to protect their hold on the school. Ultimately, the fight proves to be much tougher than either had expected, but they refuse to quit.
They “Won’t Back Down”. LOL
“Won’t Back Down” is pretty much educational inspirational movie 101. They set forth a premise that will outrage parents – broken schools and neglected students – and then let their downtrodden heroines demonstrate their determination. Both actresses here are excellent, they really elevate the material to a level of watchability that isn’t naturally inherent in the script.
The thing that will most likely get in a lot of people’s way is that the movie is very heavy-handed with its messages. The educational system is doing a disservice to children, and something needs to be done. Teacher’s Unions are protecting the jobs of failing teachers, which in turn creates failing schools, and eventually, failing students. If there’s anything for certain with “Wont Back Down”, its that by the end of the movie, you WILL KNOW that that’s how the filmmakers feel about the current state of eductaion. Unfortunately, “Won’t Back Down” does a wonderful job of pointing out the problems, but they offer virtually no solutions aside from having the parents control the school, and have the teachers be non-union (which of course, would have other problems associated with it). For a movie that places such a reliance on realism… this is a major weakness. There’s a nagging question underlying everything that’s very difficult for the film to overcome, and that’s “And then what?”
The movie, to its credit, tries to walk the path of realism for the most part. Granted, there’s a romantic sidebar and there’s a good deal of parent/child drama but, on the balance, they go easy on the emotional button pushing. Not that there isn’t a plethora of clichés on display, but the talent of the two leads, combined with the dramatic impetus present in the quasi-factual subject matter make this an interesting movie.