Film Reviews Blog: ‘Won’t Back Down’ A Textbook Story

By Mikhail Chernyavsky
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It’s a simple story of a mother’s love, and the lengths to which she will go to provide her daughter with a proper education.

The key word here is simple. This is the downfall of “Won’t Back Down.”

Although well-cast with three Oscar-nominated women and one winner, the film is clichéd and does nothing but tell a different story in the same formulaic way we’ve seen repeatedly from films like 2000’s “Remember The Titans,” to 2009’s “The Blind Side.” It’s an underdog story, but the only difference is Down doesn’t have a sports tie in.

Despite being poor, Jamie (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a bubbly and determined mother working two jobs to support her daughter Malia (Emily Alyn Lind), who is struggling severely in the second grade.

Sick of her daughter’s zombie tenured teacher, and the failing school’s inability to help her daughter, Jamie teams up with teacher Nona (Viola Davis) to takeover the school.

The film is loosely based on events surrounding the Parent Trigger law passed in California in 2010. The law allows parents and teachers to petition for the takeover of an underperforming school and govern the curriculum, dismissal of unsatisfactory staff, and even convert the school into a non-union charter school.

Down does not hide its blatant bias against the poor state of the education system and uninspired teachers going through the motions. You can’t help but feel angry as you see Malia’s teacher texting away while her class grows unruly.

You can’t help but laugh at the ridiculousness of the government’s bureaucratic system as Jamie and Nona jump through hoops to start the difficult process of the petition for a takeover.

It’s clear that one of the film’s points is that the system for change is flawed and that teacher’s unions are as well. It’s all very black and white with the end result simply amounting to kids should come first.

At one point, I was waiting for Helen Lovejoy (“The Simpsons”) to run out and hysterically yell out her catchphrase “What about the children? Won’t somebody please think of the children?”

And think of the children? They do. I just wish it wasn’t in such a textbook manner.

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