I must admit that I did not go into this Won’t Back Down with the highest of expectations and unfortunately, that target was met. What I suppose was to be a powerful statement on the current state of the education system had a decidedly afterschool special feel to it.
Inspired by ‘actual events’ the story goes a little something like this: a hard-working, dedicated single mom in Pittsburgh, PA (Maggie Gyllenhaal) whose daughter has dyslexia. The school she is currently in is essentially a poorly managed holding cell that has no intention of providing the resources that her daughter needs, not to ay anything for providing a basic education for her or any of the students. Elsewhere in the school you have a teacher (Viola Davis) from the same school who has her own obstacles to overcome – among them: fighting her own apathy at her present vocation, dealing with her own child (who may or may not have learning disabilities) and marriage hanging on by the narrowest of threads.
After the hopes of reaching the Utopia of a charter school where there are too few spots available there is the ”just in time” revelation that there exists “parent trigger laws” that essentially permits parents (with the support of the community and a majority of teachers) in a failing school to take it over. After some back and forth, our heroines decide to join forces and now we have the perfect recipe for a fight-the-system story that takes all of its characters on a “journey,’ the end of which is a catalyst for change. I guess that is the point anyway – to leave its audience inspired. I felt anything but inspired; I felt this was an insincere attempt to manipulate my emotions. This is not even to speak of the film’s thinly veiled political message.
It all begins with the statement on the film’s official website:
Putting aside partisan divides and political agendas, WON’T BACK DOWN takes a raw and unflinching look at the current state of our country’s education system, and provides an optimistic and actionable point of view for parents, teachers, and community activists alike.
What it appears we have here is a classic case of ”the lady doth protest too much.” The story DOES have a strong statement to make, if not an outright agenda, concerning teachers’ unions as stalwarts of the status quo. There is one particularly vile portrayal of a teacher who shops on an online website while her students run amok and terrorize Gyllenhaal’s daughter. In more than one instance, this teacher even seems complicit in giving the unfortunate girl a hard time.
Putting politics aside (please), as far as the acting is concerned, Viola Davis, for all of her acting prowess , turns in what has become her standard solid performance. She really does the best she can with the material. For her part, Maggie Gyllenhaal is also making the best out of a clichéd and hokey script.
In the end, given the current state of education in this country, I imagine that there are many stories out there to be told – indeed, some of them are probably even destined for the silver screen. Hopefully, these future tales will spin a more balanced and naturally uplifting narrative.