November 1, 2013

Won't Back Down (2012)

Maggie Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis


"Inspired by actual events." 

So... if I made a movie with overstated characterizations of good and evil and it contained opinions passed off as facts, but had anecdotal evidence to back me up, could I slap the words "inspired by actual events" on it? (Or in other terms, what most everyone is doing in debates over Obamacare.) For one thing, this movie isn't even based on a real person or event! Seriously. It's a composite of events that have happened in different parts of the country. So because parents out there are upset because schools out there are failing, that gives Hollywood the right to make a movie about it and call it "inspired by actual events." Therefore... I could make a movie about a parent dealing with their autistic kid because they gave their kids a vaccine made by an evil pharmaceutical company only out to pad its bottom like and call it "inspired by actual events" because well, Jenny McCarthy said it happened! What, a minute...

You know what movies are actually inspired by actual events? Apollo 13. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Miracle. Oh wait, those are "based on a true story." Sorry. Apparently we, the public, need to learn to distinguish between real stories and movies that are completely made up, but could be real... It's like learning to decode that special real estate agent speak like when they describe a house as "cozy," you know they really mean "tiny."

I don't mean to belabor the point, but it's just so frustrating when a movie is done in a certain style to make the watcher believe they are watching a true story, then promoted in a misleading way to again, make people believe it's a true story. Except it's not. It's just "inspired by actual events."

So why is this important? Because it makes teachers look like crap, for one. And while teacher bashing/union bashing (teacher union bashing really encompasses the whole two-birds mentality) is the latest cool thing to do, it apparently never occurred to the writers of this movie to give an accurate portrayal of the scope of the problem of our school system. I get that this is a drama, not a documentary, but then why put "inspired by actual events" on the poster? Why lead viewers to believe it's a real story? 

I'm obviously sensitive to the entire topic, having spent time as a teacher myself. And I don't deny the existence of crappy teachers, crappy schools, crappy administrators, and crappy union issues. BUT, when a movie is created to so clearly label "good guys" vs. "bad guys," you end up with a cartoon-like effect that makes it laughable to consider this a serious drama. It's so predictable, which is ridiculous, considering the writers weren't constrained to a certain set of facts because, as we already established, this story is MADE UP!! Ahem, "inspired by actual events."

While this movie was no doubt intended to inspire people to "fight the man" or something, the only thing it inspired in me was anger. Anger that this perpetuated the myth that there are so many bad teachers out there that don't care; anger that people still believe the only way to fix schools is to "hire better teachers; anger that Maggie Gyllenhaal's peppy demeanor is just so effing annoying! I mean, if I knew someone like her character in real life, I might need to slap her every once in awhile just to take her down a notch. There are a few good moments, of course, but those generally involved a few moments of spontaneity and not the long, contrived speeches that featured prominently throughout. Because hey, what would an inspiring movie be without inspired speeches? How about something that was "inspired by actual events?" Sigh. And it comes full circle. 

Final word: To say this movie was a well intentioned film that missed the mark is like saying Michael Moore fact checks his work. 

If you want to know a bigger reason kids are struggling in school, read this:

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