Poorly marketed, received drama trying to fight the good fight.
|Jamie Fitzpatrick (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a single mother trying to hold down two jobs, struggling to afford a good education for her daughter. “Won’t Back Down” is her fight to change the public school system. Joining her is a strong, tough, independent disenchanted black teacher, Nona Alberts (Viola Davis). It’s a drama poorly marketed as anti-union propaganda and was just as poorly received.
Directed by: Daniel Barnz
Screenplay by: Brin Hill, Daniel Barnz
Starring: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis
The film isn’t as bad as the critics’ ratings, the dismal box office performance, or the word-of-mouth criticism suggests. It’s certainly not great. The predictability, the cloying sentimentality, and desire for perfection make sure it won’t reach the great heights that the film seems to have envisioned for itself. But for people who like dramas where a disenfranchised community comes together to fight against a system, the film does hit the right notes.
Overall the acting is great, even though Davis can kiss her award chances goodbye. Gyllenhaal was the only one that attempted to add some comedy to her role. She has always been great at melding together drama and comedy and more comedy always seems to be a good thing. The best role, however, was Oscar Isaac who played both Jamie’s love interest and a teacher who was doing his best to not fail the students. He supported the union, respected his fellow teachers, respected his students, fell in love with Jamie and supported her cause even though his multiple stances would frequently be at odds. He also did all of the above with a guitar strapped over his shoulder and made little girls laugh with renditions of Johnny Cash songs. It’s too bad he won’t be able to garner any Oscar buzz.
I’m assuming one of the major issues with the failing of this film was the timing of the release. Although September marks the beginning of the school year, it is also a time of hope, optimism for the year that could be. Parents and children alike believing that this year they’re going to find a teacher that inspires them and see their dreams for the future come true. It’s not a time for the reminder that the public school education system sucks. This film would be better left for February, during the ides of winter, when students and parents alike are struggling to learn what they’re supposed to know and have lost the optimism they had just six months earlier. At its best, “Won’t Back Down” would be able to provide that lost hope; fighting the good fight, as long as that doesn’t get too monotonous.