"Won’t Back Down" is Probably Worse Than You've Heard

By Sean Burns
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Oct. 4, 2012

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Viola Davis (left) and Maggie Gyllenhaal star in "Won't Back Down."

Far be it from me to suggest an untoward agenda, but this steaming pile of phony uplift—funded by conservative Christian billionaire Phil Anschutz and released by rightwing overlord Rupert Murdoch—attempts to co-opt every scrappy underdog cliché in the inspirational playbook, fashioning a feel-good family-friendly triumph of ... union busting and privatization?

Kicking off with a rather ridiculous claim of being inspired by true events, Won’t Back Down softens up the controversial Parent Trigger laws that allow parents to have the authority to take over failing public schools. (Ask anybody working in education, already often answering to school boards that have zero classroom experience, what a brilliant fucking idea this is.) The movie tries to make things a bit more palatable by fictionalizing the law so that teachers may take part as well. Because who wouldn’t happily walk away from job security and pension plans in order to go work for people who have no idea what they’re doing?

Maggie Gyllenhaal lamely tries to Erin Brockovich things up as a sassy Pittsburgh single mom, working two jobs and struggling with a dyslexic second-grader. She enlists the help of Viola Davis’ burnt-out classroom veteran and Oscar Isaac’s insufferable ukulele player to rally this broken down community and rescue these poor children from lazy, tenured teachers. Because the problem here isn’t social inequity or class disadvantage. Presented as a sinister cabal of moustache-twirling villains in luxurious offices, the Pennsylvania teachers union apparently won’t allow these teachers to teach. So our scrappy gang tears up their contracts and takes to the streets in protest. That ominous children-hating union attempts everything to keep them down short of tying the kids to the train-tracks.

I’d be the last to suggest that our education system isn’t in dire straits. But the inanity on display here is breathtaking. And pernicious. Ineptly directed by Daniel Barnz with an unbearable over-reliance on statistical monologues and caterwauling music cues, Won’t Back Down presents a utopian fantasy where no child gets left behind, just so long as we finally free ourselves from the shackles of organized labor.

Hey, it worked out great for the NFL.

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