russell clarke Reply to on 11 March 2008
|Oh no not another movie about some middle class white person inspiring a racially diverse bunch of teenage gang -bangers that yeah there is more to life than getting "respec" , protecting your turf and killing each other. Hasn't this been done before? Well yes it has , most recently with the truly laughable "Dangerous Minds", but leave your cynicism by .....well by whatever the best place to leave it is , because Freedom Writers is based on a true story -a truly inspiring one at that - and whatever your levels of scepticism surely anyone with a living beating heart will find something affecting about this movie.
Idealistic first-year English teacher Erin Gruwell (Hilary Swank who also served as an executive producer), the daughter of a civil rights activist Steve Gruwell (Scott Glenn) attempts to make a difference by taking her first job in a volatile inner-city Los Angeles high school. Like Glenn Ford in "The Blackboard Jungle" or Sidney Poitier in "To Sir, With Love," Gruwell hasn't a clue about what she's getting into. But she cares, she's determined and she perseveres, battling intransigent scathing veterans and an unmoving bureaucracy every step of the way. Why she even takes on extra jobs to buy the students new books, organises fund-raising events all to the detriment of her marriage to under-achieving Scott (Patrick Dempsey)
Her class of black, Latino and Asian students are not exactly thrilled about reading The Odyssey. but through resolve and gawky determination and a willingness to meet her students on their own terms, Erin turns the class of misfits into a family of confident young scholars. Her primary inspirational tool involves encouraging the students to write diaries about their everyday lives, providing a catharsis for the under privileged teens. She teaches them about the Holocaust ,they meet some holocaust survivors played by real veterans and after reading the "Diary Of Anne Frank" they arrange a visit from Miep Gies(Pat Carroll), the woman who hid Anne Frank from the Nazi's .
Director/writer Richard La Gravanese keeps the premise simple , though there sub -plots involving sulky Eva (April Hernandez) and Andre(Mario).It could be argued that the film is over simplified and while Hilary Swank is a terrific actress , her performance is a little one note -all wringing hands and toothy grin .The scene where she attempts to get the kids on-side by playing Snoop Dog and dancing like her feet having been stapled to concrete lintels is toe curling.
Then there are the kids. They all put in credible performances but are clearly way beyond the ages they are meant to be portraying . While the film has a sincere evocative message and is genuinely moving at times it struck me that it leaves the viewer with a rather bittersweet message. We can cheer the accomplishment of these propitious few, but the film clearly proclaims that her project is an exception. If it takes the total commitment of an extraordinary individual to reach students, then isolated success is all we can expect from this damaged structure. Having said that her achievement is worthy of celebration and this film is a creditable part of that celebration .