Won’t Back Down is a must see for any parent who cares one inkling about their child’s or any child’s education. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character, Jamie Fitzpatrick, is a powerhouse, knock ’em dead role model for anyone who just wants to make a change for children’s education. She and Viola Davis’s character, teacher Nona Alberts, join together and risk everything, despite repeatedly being told that it won’t work, to ‘take over’ Adams Elementary which has a 19-year failing record.
What I wasn’t expecting from the movie was such a spotlight on teachers’ unions. I am not familiar with teachers’ unions. The movie’s plot boils down to a failing school because of their current system isn’t working. The current system is mostly a staff of teachers who belong to the union. One of winners from ¿Qué Means What?’s giveaway to screen the movie early was Inga from SACharterMoms. Read her blog review with more about the dynamics of teachers in the movie in her review.
Here’s when I like a movie … when it makes me think about more than just myself. And this movie did that. The answers to why this school was failing (or many other schools) wasn’t as clear cut as one might want it to be. Yes, the teacher’s union is made out to be the bad guy but what about all those parents that don’t want to help Jamie? What about the community’s attitude of ‘well, that’s just the way it is’? What about the undeniable link between poverty and a poor education? An age-old question arises: who is ultimately responsible for a quality education for our youth?
Each major character in the movie brings along their own past which shades how they each see the situation unfolding in front of them. Jamie grew up poor and now she is a single, working mom trying to do the best for her dyslexic daughter who is getting no support in a failing school. She works two jobs and doesn’t have anything to fight with except her desire for a better life which she understands begins with her daughter’s education and will stop at nothing to give it to her.
Nona’s story unfolds as a teacher and a mother and the audience learns why she became teacher and why her fire went out. She is the teacher who ends up partnering with Jamie but not without personal and professional sacrifices. In the beginning, I thought Gyllenhaal was going to be my hero in this movie but Davis stole that spot in my heart before it was over. Coupled with The Help, Viola Davis’s role in this movie puts her as one of my favorite actresses – ever.
Then, there is “Sexy-Texy,” as I will forever refer to actor Oscar Isaac in the future, who plays, Michael, an eager teacher appearing to be loyal to the union while falling for the single-mom and activist, Jamie. He has his own reasons as to why he just wants to teach and why he believes in the union but his relationship with Jamie and heated union meetings lead to deeper self reflection.
The movie opens today in theaters across America. I give it two thumbs up mostly because it sends a message of ‘anything is possible when you don’t give up’ and because it made me cry (in a good way) more than once. Moms, take your tissues. Want another local San Antonio mom’s review? Check out another winner of the screening, Erica from Walking in My Shoes.