A misguided pedagogical polemic.
DIRECTED BY DANIEL BARNZ
Behind its paper-thin power-to-the-parents veneer, Won’t Back Down is an absurd polemic that wades into the hot-button debate over U.S. public school reform with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer blow. Its aim, in no uncertain terms, is to bust teachers unions, which it identifies as the chief obstacle between America’s youth and scholastic salvation. Equally blatant is its boosting of charter schools, which it makes out to be a font of academic deliverance—though it doesn’t convey exactly how those schools benefit children (beyond lessons conducted via ukulele sing-alongs).
Apparently inspired by true events (as well as, undoubtedly, recent documentaries like Waiting for Superman, which was developed by the same production company), Won’t Back Down features Maggie Gyllenhaal as the mother of a dyslexic daughter whose teacher is a parody of pedagogical negligence. Rendered untouchable by her union-secured tenure, she blithely texts as Gyllenhaal’s third-grader is tormented by classmates, and then locks the youngster in a closet for having the temerity to need to use the bathroom. Viola Davis plays a jaded colleague to this Teacher From Hell, reinvigorated by Gyllenhaal’s attempts to take control of the school by invoking a “parent trigger” law.
To her significant credit, Davis does manage to give her character some dimension. But she represents the film’s one and only source of nuance. Won’t Back Down otherwise bears all the hallmarks of a by-the-numbers, crowd-pleasing melodrama. That alone is insipid enough, but the film’s grossly simplistic, anti-labour grandstanding makes it an alarming exercise in miseducation.