‘Won’t Back Down’ is overly schmaltzy and dramatically inert
Won’t Back Down
Directed by Daniel Barnz
Written by Brin Hill and Daniel Barnz
The modern educational system is full of corporate bureaucracy, personal frustrations, and district-, state-, and nationwide complications. In short, the system is labyrinthine at best, broken at worst. And as much as we try to think of education in a general sense, it’s immensely personal to each of us. You may not have kids, but you may have brothers or sisters who do, or young nieces and nephews, or a set of horror stories from your classroom experience. Each of us brings something unique to our beliefs about what’s right and wrong about education today, and what needs to be done to fix it—or, in fact, if it needs to be fixed. Making a fictional movie highlighting perceived flaws inherent in the system is admirable and full of good intentions, but even the most sharply written and flawlessly acted film would lose many of the complexities in the jump from reality to the silver screen. Won’t Back Down is, sadly, not tightly scripted and has only one impressive performance, relying instead on being overly schmaltzy and one-dimensional.
Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Jamie Fitzpatrick, a Pittsburgh single mother who’s working two jobs just so her 8-year old daughter, Malia (Emily Alyn Lind), can get a decent public education. Unfortunately, Malia is dyslexic, with serious reading comprehension issues; worse, her teacher is ineffectual and happy to sit on the sidelines while students bicker and fight amongst each other. After all, the teachers at this elementary school are unionized and safe from any serious blowback. When Jamie learns of a new law that lets parents and teachers take over a school from the public system after jumping through the appropriate hoops, she enlists the decent, goodhearted teacher Nona Alberts (Viola Davis) to create a proposal and encourage educators and parents to support it.