In the heart of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, Jamie Fitzpatrick is determined to improve her daughter’s inner city school as it goes down the pipes. She finds a partner in Adams Elementary schoolteacher, Nona Alberts, and the two delve into the process of starting a school of their own. The school administration fights against them, but the two are set in their endeavors, and hold a great deal in the balance as they strive to make a different, better education and future for the children of their city.
Despite how you feel about the educational system, Won't Back Down (2012, PG)is definitely a story of self-sacrificial love. Jamie truly wants the best for her daughter, and her perseverance to find it is something to admire. Juggling her low finances, her job as a bartender and her daughter Malia's struggle with dyslexia, Jamie is unhindered by the tremendous amount of work involved in bringing her ideas to life, a process that would take from 3 to 5 years. Nona risks her job at the school and her already tedious marriage in order to help Jamie with the school's reform. The head of the teacher’s union, Evelyn Riske, offers Jamie a rather large scholarship that would enable Malia to enter the school of her dreams, but Jamie turns the offer down when Evelyn refuses to give the same to Nona’s son Cody.
Won't Back Down's prevalent theme is overcoming tremendous obstacles, as the name implies. The process of starting an entirely new school is intense and detailed, and the teacher's union is extremely discouraging, sometimes using unusually harsh tactics to stop these two super-moms. Still, they plow ahead unhindered, the success of their children the only thing in sight.
Nona Alberts initially dismisses the idea, but eventually involves herself because of her high ideals and the blessings of her childhood (raised by a loving mother and beloved teacher). Her reason for taking the job at Adams in the first place was because she believed that she could make a difference there. Her passion is re-enkindled by Jamie's enthusiasm and new mission.
Nona's entire life and mission are inspired by the words of her beloved mother, "What are you going to do with your one and only life?” These are words that each of us could (and should) take to heart...
Staying true to it's PG rating, however, Won't Back Down does have a few issues that would cause concern...
Jamie's clothes are sometimes tight and revealing, and there is some smooching and chumming between her and a young teacher, Michael Perry, who's nickname is "Sexy Texy." Jamie calls luck a "foxy lady." Jamie's daughter, Malia, retaliates violently in a fight with one of her classmates over Malia's backpack, which is eventually torn. Malia is upset and cries because she knows how much money her mother had saved to purchase it, and the teacher calls her a "drama queen," utterly unfeeling. Cody, Nona's son, has a cognitive impairment, and arrives home after school with blood on his shirt, which he said is the result of a bloody nose (but Nona hints that he was bullied at school). There is some mild cursing, including a few misuses of God's name. Cody believes himself to be a "retard," and says so. After being suspended for her activities with the restoration of the school, Nona is confronted by the principal for being on Adam's school grounds. Nona tells him to "go screw himself." Jamie works as a bartender, and a few scenes in the movie take place in the bar. We learn that Nona had formerly been an alcoholic, but stopped after being in a car accident with her son Cody, whom she had forgot to buckle because she was drunk. (She blames herself for his cognitive impairment.) There is a hint of inner city racism when Evelyn offers a scholarship to Malia, but refuses to offer the same to Cody.
Won’t Back Down is undoubtedly anti-union and ridicules the educational bureaucracy that hinder the progress of idealists. It shows the union protecting unskilled and unnecessarily cruel teachers. It thus adopts the conservative anti-union narrative in its entirety. Certain unions can be corrupt, of course, but in this film we get a rather one-sided view.
There is no hit of religion at all in this movie. Malia's father is nowhere to be seen, although we hear from Jamie that he was quite a "loser." As afore mentioned, Nona's marriage is struggling, and her husband ends up staying in a different city part way through the story. Cody stays with him at times, so we definitely see the quintessential American "broken family" up close. But in this story, the "broken family" becomes another personal obstacle to overcome just like the "broken school" is a public obstacle. The healing of the school corresponds to the healing of Jamie's familial wounds as well.
Directed by Daniel Barnz cast this film wonderfully. The acting chemistry between Viola Davis (Nona) and Maggie Gyllenhaal (Jamie) is quite visible, and the energy of the two plays off each other very well. I especially enjoyed the fact that the film was superbly "real." The characters were down to earth, and the sets were very homey.
Altogether, Won't Back Down
is a good story which brings to light quite a few issues in the inner city school system. I would rate it 2.5 out of 3 tiaras.
Review by Iris