'Won't Back Down' - Inspiring, But is it Entertaining?

Politicians, charter school advocates, businesses and educators are weighing in about this movie, but does it work well as entertainment?

This movie opens with a little girl who's upset because she can't read words on a blackboard. No surprise there: the child is dyslexic, we later learn. Her teacher is an unsympathetic, texting troll who's a union member, secure in her job.

The little girl's feisty, gritting, beautiful mom (Maggie Guygunaal), a single mother working two dead-end jobs who's also dyslexic, decides her daughter needs a better education and a better school. She convinces a disheartned teacher in that school (the wonderful Viola Davis) to work with her to take over the school, invoking the parent trigger rule, and to transform it into a wonderful institution.

The story is inspiration. We learn, from the movie, that "it's based on true events," but that's a bit of a stretch. Critics are having a hard time separating the movie, as art, from the heavy-handed political message that teachers' unions are bad and are killing education. Here's what some are saying:

The real question is, ultimately, are the movies art -- in which there's room for conflicting ideas and three-dimensional characters? Or are they propaganda, in which thoughts are reduced to slogans, and people to a simple image that can be printed on a poster? And that's where "Won't Back Down" falls short. Every school board member here is a fat cat; every union official a self-interested sneak; every parent a responsible, salt-of-the-earth, blue-collar worker; every child willing to learn. Real-life factors in education -- such as drugs or crime or abusive homes -- don't count at all.

Newhouse News Service

So teachers’ unions don’t care about kids. Oh, and luck is a foxy lady. This is what I took away from the inept and bizarre “Won’t Back Down,” a set of right-wing anti-union talking points disguised (with very limited success) as a mainstream motion-picture-type product. Someone needs to launch an investigation into what combination of crimes, dares, alcoholic binges and lapses in judgment got Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal into this movie…. the big picture is that the movie is unbelievable crap and the whole project was financed by conservative Christian billionaire Phil Anschutz, also the moneybags behind the documentary “Waiting for ‘Superman,’” which handled a similar agenda in subtler fashion. Andrew O’Hehir, Salon

Though the film's pernicious propagandistic bias is irritating and misleading, it can't be overemphasized that what is really wrong with this film is how feeble it is dramatically. When Nora (Viola Davis) is trying to decide if she should work with Jamie (Maggie Gyllenhaal), she remembers her mother's question: "What are you going to do with your one and only life?" Anyone who values their one and only life would be well-advised not to spend two hours of it here. Kenneth Turan, LA Times


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Kathryn Buffington September 30, 2012 at 01:55 PM
Sounds like the liberal movie makers have an opponent--someone who makes a movie that tells the truth. We are all so tired of the constant liberal slant of every movie out there that it is nice to finally have one told from the side of the right. I commend Viola Davis and Maggie Guygunaal for starring in this. Teachers unions don't help the good teachers, only the bad ones. There are lots of good teachers out there who want to help our children, but union contracts keep the bad ones there with no fear of losing their jobs no matter how bad they are. Yes, there are lots of other factors such as bad parents, drug, abuse, etc. that keep kids from learning, but I've seen kids in the inner city rise above their status with the help of good teachers and mentors. Thank you for making this film!


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