Forgive me if I use this review as a bit of a soapbox on the ineffective school systems this country seems to be plagued with. Won’t Back Down, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis, are two mothers on a mission for better education for their young children. Davis stars as Nona Alberts, a second grade teacher at Adams Elementary, the same school Gyllenhaal’s daughter attends. She once held the title of Teach of the Year, but now struggles to find the inspiration to teach the children in her failing school. Jamie Fitzpatrick (Gyllenhaal) becomes fed up with her child not getting the proper education at school and even worse, suffering from dyslexia and having no one offer to give extra help with her reading. It is because of this unwavering motherly love and support that Jamie approaches Nona and together they petition to get teachers and parents on board for a better school, run by parents and teachers that are not run by the teacher’s union.
This is an inspiring and altogether frustrating film. Inspiring because it’s a modern day David and Goliath story of triumph. No one likes to watch a story where the bad guy or the corporation wins, but it’s also frustrating seeing the struggle that these women go through. For anyone who also saw 2010’s Waiting For Superman, the stories are similar. Superman was a documentary showing the struggle of children in failing schools and the utter lack of options for parents to change their children’s fate. Won’t Back Down sheds the same light, only in a dramatization form in order to pull at more heart strings. The casting is what made this a strong film. Gyllenhaal and Davis have both been recognized by the Academy and Holly Hunter, cast as Evelyn Riske, a member of the board of the Teacher’s Union, is an Oscar winner. All three ladies had the strongest roles in the film and carried the emotions throughout, causing tears to flow freely at times from the audience.
Although this is a much better film than Director Daniel Barnz’ last film, Beastly, the film may still have a tough time gaining attention. It is opening next to Looper and Hotel Transylvania. I can see the film lasting in theaters, however. Won’t Back Down will most likely garner responses and ticket sales from word of mouth. This film will hopefully have people talking for a long while afterward, like Superman, about our country’s failing education and its utter lack of response on the issue. Many of the same topics are covered in Won’t Back Down. Issues about failing schools being located in failing, or crime-ridden communities to issues of being poor or being a single mother are touched on.
Many people should relate to this story while many others should feel fear or anger about the current state of our country’s educational system. I feel lucky to have grown up in a public school that still worked with students and parents. A time before No Child Left Behind took over and changed the landscape of the testing agenda. It’s absolutely disheartening to watch all the loops that parents must jump through just to improve their child’s education in the school they already attend. Although Won’t Back Down ends on a hopeful, happy note, it only leaves your mind sour with all the hardship and holes that they will inevitably still face as they work to strive for better education.
I give Won’t Back Down 4 “Tom Pettys” out of 5
by Angela Davis