Some of my colleagues who'd seen this movie before me assured me that it was better than your average inspirational teacher movie. It was not. Sure, it was less obnoxious than Dangerous Minds but it was no The Substitute.
Review: Freedom Writers
Wide-eyed idealistic Erin Gruwell (Hilary Swank) comes to teach freshmen classes at a school torn apart by gangs. She manages to get the students' attention, though has to spend her own money on books the school board deems too smart for that class, and has them write journals about their feelings and experiences. Through reading and writing assignments, every single student decides to drop gang rivalries and unite for the common goal of education.
It certainly seems like an uphill battle as the students are presented as obnoxious, uncreative losers. They shout hateful things in a disorganized fashion, but nobody is even charismatic enough to come up with something truly demoralizing. Or maybe they did and it's all mixed together in such a jumble that we can't hear it.
That's real life. Kids are not articulate, eloquent evildoers. They're just lost souls with no capacity to express all their vitriol. So reaching the uneducated is a real conflict, and this is a true story so somebody really achieved this. That should be inspiring.
But everything is so simplistic it's boring. I believe real life is this simple. A-hole bureaucrats created the system that failed the kids and the bitter kids just run wild. But I want more from my movies. The principal actually going out of her way to stunt the learning process, that just doesn't make sense. What's it to her if it doesn't cost her anything?
The writing of the students, which we hear in voiceover, is way too polished and eloquent, but it sure is dramatic. There's a dance montage for the MTV crowd, and one of the students declares his hero.
They show the cost of being an inspiration. Gruwell totally shuts out her husband. And he doesn't seem like a dick either. She really did neglect all of her marital duties to save the kids, so nothing's free.
It's just soooooo looooong. Halfway through the movie, she's already gotten the kids on the path to education, so they fill the rest with concern about keeping her on as a teacher. That particular school board sets it up for one teacher to do freshmen and sophomores and another juniors and seniors. God forbid the kids keep reading on their own so they have to fight the power to redistribute classroom assignments. Powerful stuff.