Despite Strong Female Leads, Won't Back Down Polluted by Politics
- Friday, September 28, 2012
DVD Release Date: January 15, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: September 28, 2012
Rating: PG (for thematic elements and language)
Run Time: 121 min.
Director: Daniel Barnz
Cast: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Oscar Isaac, Holly Hunter, Rosie Perez, Emily Alyn Lind, Lance Reddick, Ving Rhames, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Dante Brown
While Maggie Gyllenhaal has always gravitated toward playing feisty women in everything from her indie breakout Secretary to more mainstream fare like Mona Lisa Smile, Stranger Than Fiction, Crazy Heart and The Dark Knight, she particularly shines as a rough-around-the-edges single mother channeling her inner Erin Brockovich in Won't Back Down.
Sporting a small compendium of tattoos, not to mention a seemingly endless supply of midriff-baring tops, the receptionist who moonlights as a bartender to pay the bills doesn’t exactly look like the poster child for education reform. But when Jamie’s eight-year-old dyslexic daughter, Malia (Emily Alyn Lind, TV’s "Revenge") doesn’t seem to be learning anything in school, let alone how to read, and her teacher isn’t willing to devote any extra energy to help, Jamie starts exploring her options.
It turns out escaping the clutches of an underperforming institution is anything but easy. After losing out on one of three coveted positions at a local charter school that are awarded via lottery, another door slams just as dramatically when Jamie asks the principal if Malia can be transferred into Nona Alberts’ (Viola Davis, The Help) first grade class instead.
In stark contrast to Malia’s teacher who spends more time piddling with her Smartphone than actually engaging her students, Mrs. Alberts tries her best to actually bring the ol’ reading, writing and arithmetic to life. Trouble is, the bulk of her kids don’t exactly appreciate the effort. Making matters worse, Nona doesn’t feel like she’s succeeding at home either. Despite her gentle maternal encouragement and regular tutoring, her son Cody (newcomer Dante Brown) still has trouble with his homework, especially basic math. Add in a sagging relationship with her husband, and well, it’s safe to say that Nona feels like she’s failing on all fronts.
As kindred spirits who don't know it yet, Jamie and Nona’s lives are about to intersect, thank to Jamie’s unflinching desire for change. In fact, it’s while she’s trying to arrange a meeting with a district decision-maker that she finally comes across a sympathetic ear. Then in what feels like an overly convenient bit of plotting (Won’t Back Down is based on actual events, but what’s real and what’s the handiwork of the screenwriters isn’t clear-cut), Jamie offers to buy the friendly receptionist a cup of coffee, leading to some potentially life-changing revelations in a matter of minutes.
Casually mentioning that Jamie could take advantage of new fail-safe laws that allow disgruntled parents to play an integral part in turning the schools around, Jamie knows what she has to do, despite facing a seemingly endless amount of red tape. Not letting the fact that so many before her have failed stop her, Jamie successfully recruits Nona to the cause in her limited spare time, and they begin building their case brick by brick.
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