I went to “Won’t Back Down” over the weekend.
I’ll come back to that.
A couple of bits of background before we get to the review:
I’m A Teacher’s Kid: My dad and my mother’s parents were all teachers. So’s my sister, more or less. I’m not ignorant of what a teacher’s life is like. Or was like, really, years ago and in a much smaller place beset by a level of common sense that’d be subject to Department of Justice litigation today.
I Hate “Teacher” Movies: Almost always, anyway. They always, always, inevitably seem to follow a template; plucky teacher dumped into failing school by uncaring system seems group of struggling, troubled or apathetic kids – usually minorities – and has an idea on how to each ‘em. Uncaring system tries to beat plucky teacher down. Plucky teacher tries, but soon teeters on the brink of losing the fight – until some event gives them a blinding flash of epiphany, leading them to the solution that leaves the uncaring system nodding its head in sage belief and the struggling, troubled or apathetic kids changed forever, and the plucky teacher filled with that saintly glow of superhuman accomplishment. The movies - whether Stand and Deliver, Freedom Writers, Dangerous Minds, Mr. Hoilland’s Opus or any of a slew of others (heck, even School of Rock) – are all different and yet, it seems, all the same; they pound the problems of not just teaching kids, but of teaching scads of different kids, into a too-cheap-and-easy Hollywood resolution.
They make my skin crawl. In part because – oh, one more thing…
I’ve Had My Own Battles With The School System: We’ll come back to that one.
I saw the trailer for Won’t Back Down, and I pretty much figured it out. I thought I spotted the usually 21st Century Hollywood film story crutches:
- The Magic Protected Classes: Whether the “Magic Negro” (coined by David Ehrenstein in the LATimes in 2007) – the preternaturally wise Afro-American plot premise perfected by Morgan Freeman – or the newer crutch, the Magic Single Mother, the trailers set off the warning sirens; this was going to be a PC sacred cattle crossing.
- A Cartoonish Enemy: Hollywood is left of center. And so they’ve had to engage in some political gymnastics to go after that leftest-of-center institution, public education, over the years. They way they’ve done this, traditionally, is to portray the parts of public education that are failing as isolated blocs of misery – usually as symptoms of urban decay. The failed system is local; the overall idea never gets touched.
- Some Cartoonish Side-Villains: One of the protagonists’ marriages fail. When marriages fail in Hollywood movies, the non-protagonist’s motivations and reactions usually come off a little like the title character in the Dixie Chicks’ classic sociological examination “Goodbye Earl”.
- A Heart-Warming Denouement: There is usually a triumphant final scene, usually in the school gym.
But this movie had one thing that no other movie in the genre had; it was the trailer for the first movie I’ve seen to try to tackle School Choice as anything but a cartoon.
So how did it do?