Viola Davis, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Holly Hunter, Oscar Isaac, Rosie Perez, Emily Alyn Lind, Ving Rhames. Drama. Written by Brin Hill, Daniel Barnz. Directed by Daniel Barnz.
FILM SYNOPSIS: Two determined mothers, one a teacher, look to transform their children's failing inner city school (ďItís where education goes to dieĒ). Facing a powerful and entrenched bureaucracy, often motivated by fear or indifference, they risk everything to make a difference in the education and future of their children.
PREVIEW REVIEW: I thought I was in a different universe watching this movie. Hollywood making a film that challenges the teachers union?! And the film is populated by actors known for their left wing, sometimes radical views, here coming across more like conservatives. Boy, are they going to catch some flak from their own community.
First, the film is totally engaging. Itís only weak points for me, and Iím being persnickety here, was the overbearing background score used a little too often to rally the troops. And second, the title, which seemed a bit like a call to arms as if the film were made by Kirk Cameron. I think the world of Mr. Cameron, but his films are more about the message than the entertainment. Generally, thatís a mistake when making a movie.
But writer/director Daniel Barnz (Phoebe in Wonderland and Beastly) wisely casts some of the best in Hollywood. Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal are always engaging and Holly Hunter lends authority and presence to the story. Unlike many films that take on a cause, the entertainment never takes a backseat. You are watching a movie you paid for and by golly youíre getting your entertainmentís worth.
Special note about young Emily Alyn Lind: she is never precocious or cutesy. Sheís a real kid, and a real charmer. Emily opens and closes the movie; both scenes will linger in your memory. Wow.
Now, a word about unions, specifically the teacherís union. Unions were formed to protect the rights of people. They have done incredible work, and still do. But like the political scene in our nationís Capital, business as usual can sometimes get corrupted when unions feel pressure to change. In the film, the union is shown respect, but it is also made clear that to stand up to the union will cause a fight. And sometimes the union does not play fair.
The filmís point is that throwing money at a problem is not always the solution. The film honors teachers who once (and still do) wanted to inspire their students. The great ones want to help kids, not just reach tenure. The film has made this a declaration, but not a declaration of war. The unionís side is featured and never shown disrespect. That said, there is a declaration: If something important isnít working, we need to take a chance and meet the problem with change, not just the status quo.
Is the filmmaker subversively saying we need a change this election year because things arenít working? It can be seen that way. So, donít expect Hollywood or the critical community, which also tends to lean left, to be big supporters of this film.
Hats off to the actors and filmmakers for putting themselves on the firing line. They obviously want our nationís children to be more important than their own political or social stands.
One of the most courageous films ever produced in Hollywood. Youíre not going to see many films like this. Well, not unless a whole bunch of you support this one.
BTW: thereís no swearing, crudity or explicit sexuality in this film. For those accustomed to those ingredients in their movies, they wonít miss it. A sincere story and potent performances bewitch the audiences. I couldnít help wondering why the filmmaker left out the obscenities so overly used in movies Ė out. Iíll try to find out.
DVD Additions: Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. I may be the only critic in America with this one on a ďbest ofĒ list. It mocks manís all-knowing, all-seeing intellectual conceit. The provocative film unnerves by pointing out that our nationís universities, many of which once embraced a reverence for God, are now helmed by those who donít. PG.
Waiting for Superman. While this may not be a film for relieving stress after a hard week, occasionally a movie comes along that clearly defines a threat to our culture Ė this is one. Waiting for Superman should be seen by all, for this well-produced documentary is a most important film. PG.