‘Won’t Back Down’ backs down from expectations

Joshua Basrai
A&E Editor

When I decided to watch “Won’t Back Down,” I was expecting a movie that punched me in the face with the lingering issue of public education. What I got was two hours taken from my life that can never be returned.

“Won’t Back Down” was so terrible that, according to Box Office Mojo, it set the record for the worst opening of any film opening in 2,500 theatres or more, previously held by “The Rocker” (2008). That pretty much sums up the only first place this movie will ever get. The movie insistently presents a black and white solution to a more gray issue, and leaves viewers feeling more lectured rather than uplifted. The movie has a few things go right, but it is filled with a plethora of wrongs.

I’ll be fair. It’s difficult to produce social issue movies that actually work. The line between lecturing and uplifting the audience is very thin. Some movies and television shows can do it (see “Freedom Writers,” and Season 5 of “The Wire”), but “Won’t Back Down” struggles at presenting the issue without lecturing the audience.

Usually when a movie is inspired by a true story, the true story saves the day. Not for “Won’t Back Down”. Despite being inspired by a true story, the movie becomes  is overbearing with Hollywood clichés.

One positive thing about “Won’t Back Down” is the acting. Oscar-nominated actress Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal develop a wonderful chemistry. Gyllenhaal plays Jamie, a single mother with a dyslexic daughter who struggles with bullying and her learning disability. Davis plays Nona, the typical inner-city teacher trying to make classroom innovations only to be shut down by the bureaucratic process and apathetic children.

Nona (Davis) struggles to keep her eight-year-old son motivated for school in addition to her husband walking out on her. The issue starts when Jamie (Gyllenhaal) fails to get her daughter, Malia, transferred to another class.

To her surprise, Jamie finds out that she can petition the school board with enough signatures and essentially take over the school. This is when the movie becomes way too predictable and way too Hollywood.

The movie doesn’t explain any logistics of a plan or a solution to education reform, but manages to pack in a cheesy love story in typical Hollywood-esque fashion.

Rather than presenting the real problem behind public education, the movie scapegoats teacher unions for being the problem. There is no conflict or tension in particular and screenwriters failed to bring up the real issue.

These are questions I had that never got answered.

Should parents be held accountable for bad performance? Should teachers? How can a high-school educated bartender help reform education?

Social issue movies should answer questions in addition to presenting them.

I don’t exactly know why this movie made the theatre. Even Lifetime movies have been more grandiose. The whole thing seems faked and rushed, and even the acting couldn’t save this movie.


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