WON’T BACK DOWN
* (out of 5)
September 28, 2012
Maggie Gyllenhaal as JAMIE FITZPATRICK
Viola Davis as NONA ALBERTS
Oscar Isaac as MICHAEL PERRY
Holly Hunter as EVELYN RISKE
Rosie Perez as BREENA HARPER
Emily Alyn Lind as MALIA FITZPATRICK
Directed by: Daniel Barnz
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Before I proceed to tear “Won’t Back Down” apart, I think it’s only proper to acknowledge that my wife is a teacher, and her colleagues have spent the better part of the a year fighting against dumbass politicians who don’t know a damn thing about education try to gut the system with zero input from real teachers working in the field.
Does that make me lose all objectivity? Perhaps, but no more than anyone with a political axe to grind who supports this film.
“Won’t Back Down” sets itself up to be an inspirational story about education in the tradition of films like “Lean on Me” and “Stand and Deliver.” However, this film isn’t as much about the actual educational process than it is about the bureaucracy surrounding it. It’s not a film in which a parent and teacher go to great length to inspire students or even begin to teach. Instead, it’s about a parent and teacher who try to take over a school in order to do so.
But there’s no payoff of them actually doing a better job. And this is the problem, not just with the film, but with the movement it supports.
The story follows a poor single mother (Maggie Gyllenhaal) in Pittsburgh whose daughter has the worst teacher in the school. Knowing her daughter is getting left behind by this strawman character that exhibits every negative cliche about tenure and unions, the mother joins forces with a teacher (Viola Davis) to exercise a legal precedent that allows them to take over the school, do away with the union and begin their own charter school.
I’m not going to make the case that teacher’s unions – or any other union including the SAG union and the AFL-CIO, whose workers happily contributed to this project with wages that far exceed any public school teacher’s salary – are free of corruption and problems. Similarly, I’m not going to make the case that there are no bad teachers being allowed to teach in public schools. However, I challenge anyone to find any group of professionals that don’t have some bad eggs.
Critics may say that they’re not attacking the teacher, but attacking the union. Sadly, one can’t go to war with a union without going to war with its members, much like a country can’t fight Americans without fighting America.
My problem with “Won’t Back Down” is its vast ignorance of the educational process and human nature while trying to be an expert on the subject. In this sense, this movie is an allegory to the types of people in Ohio, Wisconsin and New Jersey who think the answer to problems in schools is to do away with teacher’s collective bargaining rights. They think they have the facts, citing films like “Waiting for Superman” to show how damaging unions and tenure can be without actually knowing that there are plenty of districts in these states that actually don’t have tenure.
This oversimplification of the problem is hidden by the fact that “Won’t Back Down” is an absolute fabricated work of fiction, hiding behind the label “Inspired by True Events.” However, to make the leaps in facts and reality this film has, you could claim that “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” is also inspired by true events simply because there was once a class in San Dimas, California that assigned a paper about how three historical figures might see the modern world.
The bottom line is the events in “Won’t Back Down” never happened. They can’t happen. Pittsburgh does not have the so-called “parent trigger” law. Only California has the provision. And it’s never been put into action, let alone achieved for a parent-run charter school to overtake a failing public school. It’s a wish made by the writer and filmmakers that holds as much water as hoping Iron Man swoops in to save the day.
In the end, “Won’t Back Down” is a button-pushing woulda-coulda-shoulda film. Someone suggested to me that it was good to have a movie that inspires parents to try to make a change for their kids. That might be the case, but I wish that change would be to actually buy your kids a damn book when they are little and actually foster an education before you send them to kindergarten. Attacking grade school teachers trying to make a living for your failure to prepare your own child for school and to keep the learning process going at home is, frankly, part of the bigger problem.