Think of the most boring class you had to sit through in school...
THE focus of the save-our-school drama Won’t Back Down practically assures it will fail to join the ranks of great, or even good, education tales.
The movie takes the story out of the classroom and into the halls of bureaucracy, leaving almost every kid behind to centre on two plucky parents battling entrenched administrators and union leaders to turn around a failing school.
So essentially, it’s a school board meeting. Or school bored meeting. Despite earnest performances from Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis as a pair of moms leading the fight, Won’t Back Down lives down to its bland, us-against-them title with a simple-minded assault on the ills of public schools that lumbers along like droning multiplication tables in a math class.
Director and co-writer Daniel Barnz ( Beastly) made his feature debut with 2009’s Phoebe in Wonderland, an intimate story of a troubled girl aided by an unconventional teacher. Here, Barnz gets lost in red tape as Won’t Back Down gives us the inside dope on the teacher’s lounge, the union headquarters, the principal-teacher showdown, the hushed halls of the board of education.
Theatres should install glow-in-thedark versions of those old clunking classroom clocks so viewers can count the agonizing minutes ticking by as they watch the movie.
Prefaced by the generic “inspired by true events” tag, Won’t Back Down stars Gyllenhaal as single mother Jamie Fitzpatrick, who’s desperately trying to get her dyslexic daughter (Emily Alyn Lind) into a better place than John Adams, the dreadful innercity school she now attends.
Jamie befriends Adams teacher Nona Alberts (Davis), a once-inspired educator worn down by the system and by trouble at home as her marriage crumbles and her son struggles at school himself.
“So you want to start a school with me?” Jamie asks Nona, after learning about a program that allows parents and teachers to huddle up and seize control of failing schools. It’s tossed off as casually as if Jamie had said, “Let’s put on a show” to raise money for band uniforms, and their jousting
Don’t let their smiles fool you; Davis (left) and Gyllenhaal are probably bored, too.