Film Review: Won’t Back Down
by Matthew Durham

Won’t Back Down is a film that is loosely based on events in 2010 on the use of the parent-trigger law in LA. In this instance several groups of parents attempted to take over failing schools. The Parent-Trigger Law allows parents to overhaul administrations of failing schools if petitioned. I use the term ‘loosely’ because it pretty much has nothing to do with that situation, maybe someone thought it sounded like that particular situation would make a good movie reinvented.

Instead of Los Angeles, Won’t Back Down takes place in Pittsburgh which is why we see Steelers fans everywhere and every single color is desaturated. Our main protagonist is Jamie (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who is a mother of a dyslexic girl being severely mistreated by her teacher in school as we see in the harrowing beginning. Don’t think of physical abuse when I say severely, I mean bullied. Jamie’s daughter is anti-social and sits in the center of a class where she becomes the victim of her teacher and the students around her.

As Jamie picks up on this she tries what she can and realizes that with her low income she can’t switch schools and the principal gives her no alternative to switch teachers. Viola Davis plays Nona Alberts who has a son that is on the brink of being put into remedial classes. When Jamie hits a dead end she discovers a law that she can petition to over throw the schools, but even then she’ll need the school boards support and other teachers.

The whole mess sounds complicated enough but then the Teacher’s Union starts threatening their cause. The film never fully explains the Union’s side of the story. If the teachers go with Jamie’s proposal are they just not going to get paid anymore? The movie becomes a one-sided political debate where I felt I wasn’t hearing the full story of the other side.

Without digressing to much into my opinions on Union Labor, I will say that the kids should always be put up front foremost. Why couldn’t the union work a deal with the new school? I don’t know, it’s all political and I can’t begin to tell you that I understand the unions side of the story because the film treats them as Hollywood antagonists, by literally making them bribe Jamie and dig deep into Nona’s dark past.

Besides all of that, Won’t Back Down is, as expected, incredibly formulaic to Hollywood heart-warming standards. I would probably be more defensive of this film if it was more of a true story, but it’s really not a true story at all. The only thing the movie really has going for it is a fine performance from Maggie Gyllenhaal and an exceptional performance from Viola Davis (who didn’t see that coming?)

You can skip Won’t Back Down at the theaters unless you feel politically strong about this issue, then you might get a kick out of it. Otherwise you will be wasting your money on another one of those ‘The kids aren’t learning, we need to do something and then we do something and come to the inevitable credits with a song that matches the movie title playing’ predictable escapades. And while Gyllenhaal and Davis are great they aren’t worth seeing the movie over.

The film comes out this friday: September 28, 2012

Final Score: 2/5