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Won’t Back Down Movie Review

Release Date: January 15, 2013

Won’t Back Down [Blu-ray] opens with a close-up of a scared Malia struggling to read the word “story” as her teacher plays with her phone oblivious to the other students goofing off.  It is clear from the beginning that this teacher is there only for the paycheque rather than to teach and inspire her students to learn.

 Malia’s Mother, Jamie Fitzpatrick (Maggie Gyllenhaal) asks the neglectful teacher for extra help after school for her dyslexic daughter and is told bluntly that “school ends at three.”

Jamie  won’t accept a second rate education for her child and teams up with Nona Alberts (Viola Davis), a once proud but now beaten down teacher,  to lead a crusade to take over the school.  Nona is dealing with her own issues between a system that is failing to help her own son and a failing marriage.

Taking over the school means fighting the union and dealing with seemingly hopeless bureaucratic red tape, not to mention a risk to other teacher’s job security.

Since I have limited knowledge of the U.S. Education, I can’t really speak to the political statement bubbling under the surface of this obvious parent-trigger film.  I can speak to the artistic side of the movie though.

I love that Jamie remains joyful and optimistic in the face of so much tribulation on her road to get her daughter a good education.    Nona is the Yang to Jamie’s Yin in that she is obviously downtrodden and cynical and yet despite her obvious trepidation in joining Jamie she comes around and throws herself into the effort completely.

I was left wondering how many parents would go to the same lengths and then remembered some of my own experiences with “bad” teachers.  In grade two my Mother often wondered why my answer was always “nothing” when asked what I did in school that day.  It was near the end of the school year before she realised our teacher had us playing in a sandbox and colouring all day.  Needless to say other parents figured out the problem as well and she was gone the next year, however for my classmates and I, the damage was already done.  

In grade six I came home with a mid-term report showing I was failing mathematics.  My mom realised the teacher wasn’t doing her job properly, and like the neglectful teacher in Won’t Back Down, she refused to give extra help.  My mom took it upon herself to teach me the curriculum and when I came back with a perfect test the teacher accused me of cheating.  My mom didn’t take that one sitting either as you can imagine.

For all the horrible teachers I’ve had though, there have been so many more who obviously cared more about their students more than their pay which made certain aspects of Won’t Back Down so realistic to me.  

If you loved Norma Rae or Erin Brockovich this would be a great movie to check out although it is only loosely inspired by events and Jamie is not a real person.

Check out the infographic below – click to enlarge!