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Won't Back Down Review: A Boring Movie For Boring People, i.e., Parents

By Dustin Rowles | Film Reviews | September 28, 2012 | Comments ()


‘Won’t-Back-Down.jpeg

A couple of years ago, I was in an adult kickball league. It was the same as kickball you played when you're a kid, only there's alcohol involved and because your bones are more brittle, there's a higher probability of injury. I enjoyed the hell out it for two seasons until I took up an offer to go to a bar afterwards with a few of my randomly-selected teammates. They were in the early 20s, mostly just out of college, and it turned out that, outside of kickball, I had absolutely nothing to contribute to their hook-up conversations, dim employment prospects, and post-collegiate struggles. When one teammate asked me what my major was, I took my cue, left the bar, and decided that people with kids are probably too old to be playing kickball.

As you progress through the stages of adulthood, that banal, small-talk question -- "What's your major?" -- begins to take different forms. First, you find yourself talking about rents, or certain neighborhoods or apartment complexes. Before long, you're talking about billable hours, real estate and the home buying market, then about birth stories, the best parks around town, and pre-K education. (It's best never to listen to yourself while engaged in small talk, lest you shoot yourself in the head). Suddenly you wake up one morning and the parents of your kid's friends are your friends, and school and school districts are a weirdly fascinating topic of conversation.

It's that particular subset of people -- teachers and parents with a keen interest in their kids public-school education -- that might be drawn to a movie like Won't Back Down, a fairly bland, treacly and lethargic "inspirational" film about a hard-scrabble single mom and a teacher beat down by the system who decide to take control of a Pittsburgh school and run it themselves. Basically, it's a movie about fighting teachers' unions, school boards, bureaucratic red tape, and the administrative process. Exciting stuff! It's a corny, inarticulate and ham-fisted fictionalized version of Waiting for Superman pitting well-meaning parents against the mean old unions that protect the jobs of lazy and underperforming teachers.

Won't Back Down, much like the bureaucracy at the center of the film, moves like molasses, as the single mom marshals the support of parents, and then teachers, and then school boards, the last impediment standing between them and a parent-and-teacher ran school with failure rates higher than most public schools. But no matter: Don't let reality stand in the way of a inspirational tale about creating an educational environment more supportive of children with a reading disorder.

I wouldn't recommend Won't Back Down to my worst enemy, and yet, if you're one of those boring people like myself who find yourself mired in conversations about the public school system, it's oddly engaging. Not because the writing is good, because it's not. It's melodrama steeped in sentiment wrapped in swelling violins. Even the performances are shockingly bad. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a hyper, overly earnest blue-collar single mom with a dyslexic daughter, while Viola Davis plays the put-upon teacher with surprise third-act alcohol addiction who is fighting against her own colleagues, and they both act as though they've just graduated from the Lifetime Network school of acting. It's all hokey speeches about our kids' future, ra-ra determination, and picket-line chanting.

Yet, they're speaking to something that's not often spoke of in motion pictures (for good reason) -- local bureaucracies, school boards, teachers' unions, and charter schools -- and it's nice to see those interests represented by major movie stars, even if they're handled with all the grace of a farting ballerina with club feet, and even if they fail to make it any more interesting than idle chit chat between parents. It's not a movie I enjoyed, but it is a movie I'm more likely to discuss at a PTO meeting than Looper, which just goes to show how backwards our real-life priorities are. Looper is obviously more important than the women and men who teach our children how to read, and if everyone shared my worldview, our grown-up conversations would be a lot more interesting.



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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • Devin McMusters

    I like it when Maggie Gyllenhaal gets spanked in a movie.

  • A Guy

    The ignorance displayed in this comments section is quite entertaining.....yet not toally unexpected.

  • Haystacks

    Without a teacher's Union, my mum, an award winning teacher for over 20 years, would barely be able to pay rent.

  • idiosynchronic

    So we're not going to hang Pajiba sweetheart Maggie Gyllenhaal (or equally talented) Viola Davis for this propaganda mess?

    Shame.

  • ,

    Please tell me they don't use the Petty song in the soundtrack.

    And: Was this actually filmed in Pittsburgh?

  • Uriah_Creep

    even if they’re handled with all the grace of a farting ballerina with club feet

    Finally, an opera today's kids might want to see.

  • John G.

    This is a pile of propaganda bullshit that tries to pin all of societies failings on teachers and their union. Teachers can't eliminate poverty, and yet they're being rated on their ability to make poor kids who have no outside support perform at the same level as rich public school kids.

    BOYCOTT THIS PROPAGANDA

  • Quatermain

    Boycotts are foolish and ineffective -unless- they're massive, wide-spread and held to religiously. Which means they're foolish and ineffective. They're the real-life equivalent of Facebook's 'Like' button. It allows you the illusion of having contributed, while at the same time not requiring you to actually do anything.

    Movie boycotts are even stupider than regular boycotts, because even less people care about your principled stand against a frivolous luxury item that's only going to be around for three weeks than the nobody who cares about every other boycott.

  • John G.

    How is this helpful? Go see the film if you want. Talking about what will or will not work seems like a comment with no purpose other than to feel good about non-action.

  • This review basically summed up the reason I quit talking to a lot of my friends after they've had children. There really is no way to make changing diapers and potty training more interesting than the final season of Fringe or even Looper.

  • Dustin Rowles

    Well, I think the larger point is that we all often find people who are not in the same life stations a little boring if there's nothing about them that is reflective of ourselves. Your friends with kids may not be that interesting to you, but I expect whatever it is that preoccupies much of your life us not so interesting to the, either. It's not that people with kids are uninteresting; it's that they are uninteresting to you.

  • clatie

    I'm sure your former friends are so sad they lost such a good friend.

  • I don't mean that I don't talk to them ever. But, the frequency and content of our conversations has changed drastically. And, that's to be expected. I would much prefer my friends to grab a nap while the baby is down than discuss random stuff with me.

  • This is why I decided to maintain outside interests, even though I have kids. Talking about your kids with folks who don't have them is like talking about your new lover with... well, anyone. No one really gives a shit about the details. Be more interesting than that.

  • googergieger

    And now for one of my award winning jokes from my award winning stand up days.

    Ahem.

    "I don't know. I mean, I get the fact Tom Petty won't back down, but for the life of me I can't figure out why."

    Thank you and good night!

  • ,

    Because, baby, there ain't no easy way out.

    Duh.

    *heckler FTW*

  • Wednesday

    We have a big charter school movement here. The local Board is against it, the state is pushing it hard.

    And somehow I don't think a movie that paints unions as the *entire* problem is going to add a lot to that conversation. It's just another propaganda movie to drum up misguided support for the myth that privatization is the answer to every goddamn social ill.

  • DangerNut2600

    Oh its totally fucking blatant propaganda. Basically the "producer" behind the film is Philip Anschutz. Mister Anschutz is a billionaire backer of everyone's favorite Koch brothers' action group "Americans for Prosperity". Pretty much this is a bullshit film loosely "based" on events that turned out completely opposite of what the film claims.

    They are trying to encourage Parent Trigger legislation. Why? Well like most ALEC endorsed legislation, Americans for Prosperity gets a load of money from a couple of private companies that want to hone in on public schools. Its perfect...you expel the mentally and physically handicapped, the poor kids, and any other outliers to the remaining open public schools and when score go up, you claim it a success, and give bonuses to high up private administration. As for those greedy asshole union teachers...well fuck they get fired day fucking one and if they beg for it, they can take a huge pay cut.

    Free market at its fucking BEST!

  • ScienceGeek

    Earlier this year, we had an independent school just... denotate. Like, parents showing up with their kids one normal morning to find the doors locked. They were so badly in the hole that even government bail-out could only ensure the students in their final two years could get to the end of term. Everybody else, from pre-school to year 10, were shit out of luck, in an area where every other school had a six month waiting list. They've basically had to squeezed thousands of students into schools that are already straining at the seems (The school had three campuses, two on large housing estates that were crammed with thousands of houses, all owned by new families with lower-than-usual pay packets. And like every one of these fucking housing cancers, the only schools they build on those estates are private ones that charge $10K a year in fees).
    It turns out the board were rampaging ego-maniacs, lining their own pockets, or hopelessly out of their depth. They went through 3 principals in 5 years. They were the first/only independent school to have legal action taken against them by the teachers for a range of problems including underpay and harrassment. They had $2million in unpaid fees.
    I suspect the idea of parents running schools is only appealing to people who've never actually run a school.

  • Jezzer

    But... but... the free market solves everything! D:

    RON PAUL IS MAGIC, GODDAMMIT!

  • Fredo

    So it's a good movie for people who want to feel good about the $10 bucks a ticket plus the $50 in babysitting they paid to go out and see a movie? OK then.

    This is why you stay friends with the nerds and geeks of your high school days. Yes, they give you boring parent talk but occasionally they will drop a "Did you see last week's Doctor Who?" on your ass. And you will beam like a puppy who just got a bouncy red ball held up to its nose.

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