Movie Review: Won’t Back Down

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When her dyslexic daughter ends up in a class with a bad teacher, a mother decides to overtake the school.

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Daniel Barnz

When her monetary situation forces her to take her daughter Malia (Emily Alyn Lind) out of private school and put her into an eeeevil public school, Working Single MomTM Jamie Fitzpatrick (Maggie Gyllenhaal) becomes frustrated at the terrible teacher of Malia’s class. Meanwhile, at the same school, teacher Nona Alberts (Viola Davis) is worn down by a combination of years in a soulless system surrounded by unmotivated children, and her difficult home life with a developmentally delayed son. When both their children fail to get a place at an exclusive private school, Jamie and Nona hatch a plot to take over the school. I watched this whole movie, and I’m still not sure what exactly they did with the school, but the unions are REALLY UNHAPPY ABOUT IT in this movie, and try to stop it from happening. Nona’s fellow teacher and Jamie’s love interest Michael Perry (Oscar Isaac) is initially hesitant about it, too. But because Nona and Jamie are doing all this For The KidsTM, they Won’t Back DownTM, and start to win over more and more supporters among the teachers and parents.

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Won’t Back Down made me actively angry at the universe. I had to take so many breaks from watching just so I could vent my anger at the world. The level of sheer entitlement on display in this movie is shocking to me – Jamie seems to think that because she really cares about her kid, that supersedes anyone else’s interests or needs. It’s only when other people’s kids’ needs happen to intersect with Malia’s that she cares about them, and yet she predicates her entire argument on the idea that she’s doing the right thing. The movie flip flops in logic to prove a point – are teachers overworked, underpaid heroes, or are they rich, lazy layabouts? All the teachers in this movie seem to agree on is that they “want to teach”, and are perfectly happy to work at a school where it is mandatory for them to stay at work as long as the school dictates (“we want it to be a school where even at 3 o’clock, if the students have issues, then it’s up the teacher to stay” – have they met teachers? Do they really think all teachers are just done with work at 3 pm?! Do they think teachers don’t deserve to exist outside school? How is Nona’s kid going to cope with his mother never being home?!) Make no mistake, this is pure right-wing anti-union propaganda in movie form. At one point, Nona is unfairly suspended by the principal because of her efforts to take over the school. You know which organisation exists SPECIFICALLY TO PROTECT TEACHERS FROM THAT? A FUCKING UNION.

The fact that there are so many good actors working hard in this morally repugnant movie is horrifying to me. And they’re good in it, too – Holly Hunter’s Union rep seems to genuinely be trying to juggle some complicated ideas in the film (but has to quit the union “to teach”, OF COURSE, because the union is EVIL). Maggie Gyllenhaal puts her all into the tired tropes that Jamie represents, Viola Davis is heartbreaking, and Oscar Isaac is freakin’ adorable as he makes up songs for kids and looks good in jeans (this is a quote from the movie, I swear). But the script for this movie seems like it was written by an alien who visited a rough school once and has never had a conversation with another human being. In addition to the constantly shifting ideals, the script contains two instances of the word “trepidatious” coming out of Jamie’s mouth, and one instance of the non-word “envisualising”. It relies on tired tropes to be oversimplified, hyper-emotional cheese. Amazingly, it also manages to still be sexist even with two amazing women as the leads – see, for reference, the “you’re not like other girls” bullshit that comes out of Oscar Isaac’s mouth at one point. The direction and production design are equally lazy. I’ve rarely been so furious watching a movie. I would normally give it probably another star for the good acting, but I could barely bring myself to give this movie any stars at all, so you’ll just have to live with me splitting the difference.

Won’t Back Down on IMDb

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