Won’t Back Down

“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.


16 thoughts on “Won’t Back Down

  1. Hi, Fogs and company:

    Good, concise review on a touchy topic!

    Fully expect ‘Won’t Back Down’ to be trashed by Rotten Tomatoes and its ilk. As they did with Dinesh D’Sousza’s, ‘2016’. Though audiences loved it. The film will make a ton of money south of the Mason-Dixon line and across the US. Though it will be demonized on the west coast and in every major city that has a strong Teachers Union.

    Just a gut feeling.

    • LOL. I dont know if it’s going to perfectly split along Red State/Blue State divide, but you can hardly be blamed for venturing a guess that it would. 😀

      Ahh. Obama’s America, you mean. Gotcha gotcha. For a moment I didnt connect, there. Well, I havent seen that movie, so I cant speak to it myself… perhaps its not great. [shrugs]

      Meanwhile, here, I dont really mind what they’re saying as much as they’re pretty overt with everything. Very talky, very issue oriented… without offering many (if any) solutions. Kind of like politicians themselves!! LOL

  2. Hi, Fogs:

    Solutions are never simple. Except for taking on individual schools and their councils and working each as a dog would a bone. I’m just pleased to see some venting and ideas in a film.

  3. This movie has an agenda, and it’s an ugly one. “Parent-trigger” laws are the latest assault by right-wingers on public education, and this movie is the wet dream of the education privatization crowd. The movie is backed by Walden Media, owned by Philip Anschutz a radical right-winger who backs Americans For Prosperity, pushes for so-called “Creation Science” in schools, and back organizations that push anti-homosexuality laws.

    The biggest threat to public education today is privatization advocates who want to strangle public schools of funding and twist curriculum away from secular-only to push theological points of view.

    I know you are evaluating the movie on it’s artistic, rather than political, merits. Just wanted folks to know there’s an agenda in this movie beyond just making an entertaining movie.

    • Yeah, I stumbled across that during my search to see how “actual” the “actual events” were that this movie “Inspired by Actual Events” was based on. The answer? Not very. Parent trigger law challenges have been issued, but none of them got as far as in this movie.

      This movie isn’t as eggregious as “Act of Valor”, which was a bold-faced recruitment video charging ticket prices at the gate… at least this film is a legitimate movie, with a working script, valid entertainment value, and genuine actors and actresses.

      The end result isnt as blatantly right wing as one might think, although it absolutely is anti-union.

      As I said, I think it does a good job of raising issues. Unfortunately it offers nothing in the way of alternatives or solutions aside from “enact the Parent-Trigger laws”, but its pretty obvious even in their fictional portrayal that that would be immensly difficult to actually succeed with.

  4. I’ll wait for DVD, since I’m sure the two actresses deliver good work, but this just seems like one of those Oscar baits that won’t catch any awards because there is better stuff out there this year 🙂

    • I thought, going in, this might be a movie that could have performance moms if done right…

      Neither of the roles are really there from a script standpoint though, you know? The ladies deliver, for sure, but the parts aren’t quiiiiite there.

  5. I was a headline indicating this movie may have set the record for worst opening weekend ever. I didn’t actually read the article. My first reaction is that it would, of course, have the worst opening since that article was the first I had heard of the movie. There has to be SOME sort of advertising and promotion of a movie. I know I don’t have cable or regular t.v. But I still usually hear about upcoming movies from other media sources and trailers when I go see movies. I never heard a thing about this movie.

    As a woman with a teaching degree (which I’ve never actually used) I understand where the two main characters are coming from. I will have to check this movie out now.

    • You’re from the UK, though, yeah? I know it didnt do that poorly here… dont get me wrong, it certainly didnt do well, but, nothing like that.

      Meanwhile, I cant see how it would do well overseas. Not sure why they even bothered opening it internationally…. seems very specifically based on an american educational system issue. I have no idea how they WOULD market it globaly. LOL

      • LOL! Born in Montana, Raised in North Idaho, Got my teaching degree in History and English from the University of Idaho, Residing in Nebraska(its a cosmic joke). But grew up watching a lot of British programing on PBS and reading a lot of British Childrens books. By the time I hit jr high, I was very confused on British vs American spelling and grammar and usage. I still get a bit disconbobulated on a few usages and occasionally say things like “at hospital” or “at university”.

  6. I was afraid of this one seeming a bit like a documentary pointing out things wrong with the education system without any true solution and added drama for effect that seemed out of place. You kinda confirmed that for me. I’ll watch Waiting For Superman instead. If I’m going to watch a docu, then it will be a full-fledged one. Thanks for the review.

    • I havent seen “Waiting for Superman”, a lot of people bringing it up positively in conjunction with this though. Your sentence”seeming a bit like a documentary pointing out things wrong with the education system without any true solution and added drama for effect” is EXACTLY what’s going on here, man. Sounds as if you’ve already seen it!

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