It is a story we’ve all seen before…a young white female teacher goes into an inner city, multi-ethnic school and is assigned the less-than-desirable task of teaching the kids that have been labelled as unteachable. You are now thinking to yourselves that you’ve seen it all before and why should you take the time (and money) to see it again. Well, there are a few reasons you should see this film. Just because a subject has been brought to the screen before does not mean that it has been exhausted. Think of how many Holocaust films or Vietnam films there have been and many of them have been good. There is always room for different interpretations of the same story. Now I am not saying that there is much new or innovative about this film. It is just an example of good acting and storytelling. Despite your cynicism you end up caring about the characters and wanting everyone to triumph in the end. It really deals with the idea that one person does have the power to make a difference in many lives and as a result the world. I know this is another subject that has been done to death, but I think it keeps popping up because we have not yet accepted it as the truth.
Another reason that this film was good is that it has as themes the power of education and caring about your fellow human beings – no matter how different they are from you. It really hits home about the power of knowledge and how an education can give people from poorer backgrounds opportunities they would never have otherwise. I hope some of our politicians today go to see the film and think twice about cuts or non-funding to education. They have to see that they are crippling their own countries and economies when they abandon a large portion of the population by not providing them with an education. Empathy for fellow humans is also an important part of the film. We cannot avoid those that make us uncomfortable. We have to do what we can to help them. As sappy as it may seem this will truly make the world a better place.
Finally, the acting in the film, while not being Oscar-calibre, is honest and believable. Hilary Swank brings the type of caring, empathy and believability to a role that could have come off as totally over-the-top without someone of her skill doing it. Any role she takes on you believe she is the character. The young actors who portray the kids in the school are also quite good with a standout being April L. Hernandez (appeared in episodes of ER and Law & Order) as Eva. The film does not claim to have any simple answers to this complex problem, but it definitely encourages us to think about it and prompts us to do something. It is often a poignant film, but manages to not be too heavy or depressing. You will come out of the film feeling uplifted and positive…not a claim that many films today can make!
Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, California is populated with kids of Latino, African American and Vietnamese background with a minority of white students. None of these populations get along and there are often conflicts. Each group remains fairly isolated from the other and there are some dangerous gangs that spring up as a result. The school they attend is a depressing place where there is little education happening; it ends up just being a daycare or holding place during the day for these kids. As a result they end up feeling more and more hopeless and entrenched in a gang lifestyle. Most students do not graduate, as they are either expelled or just stop coming.
A young, white, middle class woman named Erin Gruwell (Hilary Swank – Boys Don’t Cry, Million Dollar Baby) is hired to teach English. She is assigned to teach a class of the worst students. From the get go the kids cannot relate to her and give her a hard time. She is seen as too different from them. To make matters worse, she does not even fit in with her fellow teachers as they are a bunch of disillusioned burn outs who just want to collect their pays and not get beaten up. Teaching is just not happening. Erin will not give up on the kids and decides that the best way to teach them is to learn about them. She begins to encourage them to talk about their lives so she can understand. Then she gives them each a journal in which they are to write about their lives and how they feel. Slowly they begin to respond. She then uses this as a way for the different ethnic groups to begin to realize all the things they have in common. Erin wants them to see their similarities not focus on their differences.
As school starts to go well for Erin her personal life begins to slide. Her husband, Scott (Patrick Dempsey – from television’s Grey’s Anatomy), who is initially supportive, is jealous of the time she spends with the kids and her father (Scott Glen – The Shipping News, Training Day) does not approve of her career choice. Erin has to deal with the tricky job of giving her students the support they need while at the same time having the energy to give something to her family as well. Like her students, Erin ends up having to decide what is truly important in life.
– Deleted Scenes
-Making ‘A Dream’
-Freedom Writers Family
-Freedom Writers: The Story Behind the Story