I'll back up, Won't Back Down
Even a first grader can comprehend that Adams elementary school isn't making the grade.
With part of the teaching staff only there to get a paycheck and union rules protecting educators whether they perform well or not, action needs to be taken.
Bursting out of the constraints of inferiority and leading their rallied mob, come two women who won't accept a second rate education for their children. Nona and Jamie are a teacher
and parent duo who utilize Parent Trigger Legislation to do the unthinkable and takeover
their kid's under-performing elementary school. Although from different backgrounds, the women share the same driving force, a special needs child who's getting left behind. So they plunge themselves knee deep in the red tape of the bureaucracy's protocol to make their visions a reality.
This gripping nail biter kept my blood pressure pumping the entire film. Aside from Chinese, Jamie and Nona are told in every way, by the school system, how impossible it will be to
make a change at Adams and how extensively their efforts will be in vein. It instantly
becomes compelling to witness each problematic stage of their process as they approach
them fearlessly together with vitality and strength.
Although this isn't a true story, it is said to come from the compilation of true events like the turnaround operator, Green Dot public schools that took over Locke High school in Watts, CA. Won't Back Down (previously titled: And Still I Rise, Learning to Fly and Steel Town) portrays similar voices of people empowering themselves to revamp failing inner city public schools with their best efforts.
Some of the controversy surrounding the story claims it's motive is to privatize the nation's school system which threatens the teachers unions and it suggests reconstructing the school system into a money making opportunity. Furthermore, some protesters argue that charter schools don't always deliver the better education that they promise, teachers and their unions are painted in a bad light and the laws stated in the film aren't true.
However under law, charter schools can be shut down when they don't perform, giving them
an urgency to achieve that public schools don't have. Also, the details of many takeover rules for teachers and school systems are regulated on a state by state basis. I won't begin to say that I know a great deal of charter school laws. But, as Hollywood fictional stories go, it probably wouldn't be a good idea use the facts of the film to take over a public school or
form an uneducated opinion on the real people involved.
In general, I can appreciate a story where regular people don't take no for an answer and vigorously work to unite others to change a flawed system.
The ambition and spunk in such characters is refreshing and motivating to see. Jamie Fitzpatrick, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, skips into every scene literally with enthusiasm
as the tenacious advocate for her beloved daughter. Although the hurdles of taking over her child's school are piled against the underprivileged, two job working mom, her performance
is tireless, creative and high spirited.
Nona Alberts, played by the SAG award winner and Oscar nominee, Viola Davis, did not fall short of bringing her expected class and strength to the teacher/ parent role. Her less is
more approach gains understanding for her character's dilemma and warrants respect for
her performance. She graciously depicts a mother who searches for a better education for
her son while she concurrently deals with a failing marriage and a thankless teaching job.
In addition to Nona and Jamie, Michael Perry, played by Oscar Isaac, gave a refreshing performance as the brightest eyed and bushiest tailed teacher at Adams elementary. His innovative way of using his guitar to stimulate, and entertain the kids all while teaching
them mathematics, was one of the highlights of the film.
But don't misinterpret, the movie does have it's flaws. Some scenes and facts were less than believable at times. One example is, when the women knocked on countless parent's doors
for their petition, but they all seemed to be located within the same housing building.
Another is the speech that Jamie stood up and gave to her daughter with her back turned to the chairman in the middle of the hearing. It just seemed pretty unlikely to have a one on
one moment in a public forum. However, I didn't feel Won't Back Down's accuracy issues
took away from the film as a whole.
Won't Back Down focuses on one way people have fixed the problem and created a decent learning environment for children who didn't have that option previously. Let's face it. The poor performance records of so many inner city public schools don't come as a shock anymore. I applaud a storyline that aims to make a difference and especially the real people who influenced it. The movie doesn't make it seem easy. But, if positivity, determination and
a strong desire are the main ingredients of what's needed to change the world, one corrupt school system at a time, then this film graduates cum laude.
In regards to the PG rating, (coming from the standpoint of a kid's blog) I think the details of policy and technical fine print are a little over the heads of most children. And, these
particular details are a good portion of the film. However, the feeling of hope and determination, are also widespread through the movie and are conveyed clearly enough for even a youngster to understand.
I give it 4 out of 5 Skittles. For the children's review of Won't Back Down, or previous
What To See PG reviews visit www.WhatToSeePG.com