When Jaime Fitzpatrick, a poor single mother,
Perceives that her daughter is being let down
By a substandard school, she tries finding another
But cannot afford the ones earning renown.
Meanwhile a teacher at Adams, that school,
Is also concerned for her slow-learning son.
While this Nona Alberts tries joining the pool,
She too is shut out from a school that’s well-run.
At last, Jaime’s had it with uncaring teachers
Who won’t help her dyslexic daughter to read.
She hears of a law with a number of features
Intended to let parents change schools in need.
Convincing Miss Alberts to join her crusade,
Jaime passes out flyers, petitions, and such.
She gains at least fifty, but most are afraid
That the system just won’t let them do very much.
The state’s teacher’s union attacks the endeavor
With lies mixed with truth to discourage new blood.
They say it hurts teachers; their fear is, however,
This unionless new school could start a whole flood.
From door-to-door visits to rallies with pride,
Both Jaime and Nona begin to persuade
Some teachers and parents to come to their side
And give Adams their fundamental upgrade.
Though Michael, a teacher and Jaime’s new beau,
Is averse at the first to forsake union aid,
He too comes around when he sees to let go
Is to move the school forward from where it’s decayed.
A couple mistakes come to haunt Nona still,
But the head of the school board decides to assist.
Obtaining a rare hearing through her good will,
They try to ensure that there’s nothing they’ve missed.
The school board says “no” for a typo at first,
But a speech and redo gains them just enough votes.
Jaime’s daughter soon reads, for she’s now been immersed
In the true love of learning their new school promotes.

Won’t Back Down may be divisive for supporters of teacher’s unions, but it’s a truly uplifting drama that should remind teachers and parents alike that schools are meant to benefit the children that fill them. Maggie Gyllenhaal is on fire as Jaime Fitzpatrick, an ultimate Type A personality, who is not content to let her daughter’s school fail her. While she’s poor and undereducated, she doesn’t want her daughter to be the same, and her love for Malia is evident from the beginning.

Viola Davis also shines in a much more understated role as Nona Alberts. Most of the time she remains stoically overwhelmed, much like her brilliant Oscar-nominated performance in Doubt, but about midway through she perks up and gets some wonderful moments to both have some fun and give some frustrating people a piece of her mind. In addition, Holly Hunter plays a leader in the teacher’s union who begins to have second thoughts, and Oscar Isaac as Michael gets some good scenes defending the role of unions in the past. He also gets to sing a bit, foreshadowing his latest role in Inside Llewyn Davis, in which he sang his songs live.

Like Nona’s gradual awakening from just going through the motions to actively teaching her class, the cinematography brightens as the film progresses. At the beginning, the color scheme is so muted, it might as well be in black and white, but by the end, everything is more radiant and colorful, especially the school, reflecting the growing hope for a better school and future.

The mostly clean film is an indictment on the overregulated education “system” and a probably oversimplified solution to it, but whether you agree with its message or not, Won’t Back Down is a marvelously acted if slowly-paced film that encourages viewers to change whatever they can for the better. (By the way, Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” not only inspired the name of the movie but also earns a place in my End Credits Song Hall of Fame.)

Best line: (Nona Alberts, when urged to dance) “I haven’t danced since ‘Gettin’ Jiggy wit It,’ and I wasn’t jiggy then.”

Artistry: 7
Characters/Actors: 8
Entertainment: 6
Visual Effects: N/A
Originality: 7
Watchability: 7
TOTAL: 35 out of 60

Next: #261 – Joseph: King of Dreams

© 2014 S. G. Liput