Teacher and education blogs were all atwitter — and Twitter was all ablog, I suppose you could say — about the opening this past weekend of the movie “Won’t Back Down.”
“Parent trigger” laws bubble up in discussion a lot recently — laws that allow a group of parents to petition a school district, or the state, and say that they want to take over a local school. Conservatives and other anti-teacher groups promote these laws as a means of education reform. Generally, in the few cases in which a school is taken over by parents, teachers and local administrators are fired, and the school operates much like a charter school.
“Won’t Back Down” professes to be “based on a true story.” I am reminded that both “Psycho” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” also professed to be based on a true story — the same story, in fact. I’ve written about this before — based on a true story, except not in Texas, no chainsaw, no massacre, nor was there a hotel and a shower. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is more carefully based on a true story — there is a Mississippi River; or The Bald Soprano — there are bald people, and there are sopranos. But I digress.
The film has a cast of some great star power — Maggie Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis and Holly Hunter. It was produced by the documentary group that also produced Al Gore‘s “Inconvenient Truth,” and then moved to the popular but wildly polemical “Waiting for Superman,” another hit on teachers. They should have stopped with that one, instead of raising the ante (raising the “anti?”).
Audiences don’t like films that cast teachers as villains, it would appear.
Stephanie Simon of Reuters wrote:
(Reuters) – Education reform film “Won’t Back Down” opened Friday to terrible reviews – and high hopes from activists who expect the movie to inspire parents everywhere to demand big changes in public schools.
The drama stars Maggie Gyllenhaal as a spirited mother who teams up with a passionate teacher to seize control of their failing neighborhood school, over the opposition of a self-serving teachers union.
Reviewers called it trite and dull, but education reformers on both the left and right have hailed the film as a potential game-changer that could aid their fight to weaken teachers’ unions and inject more competition into public education.
Yahoo!’s Movie Talk got to the point:
Even an Oscar-caliber leading cast couldn’t save this one. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s latest film “Won’t Back Down,” also starring Viola Davis and Holly Hunter, set the record this past weekend for the worst opening of a film that appeared in more than 2,500 theaters, making a mere $2.6 million [via Box Office Mojo].
Yes, all three of these former Oscar nominees — Hunter having won a golden statuette in 1994 for “The Piano” — now have a pretty bad blemish on their resume. But they aren’t to blame, say industry watchers, who are reacting to the film with a resounding face palm. “‘Won’t Back Down’ wore the dunce cap last weekend, mostly because its marketing was almost non-existent,” says Jeff Bock, box office analyst for Exhibitor Relations.
“Record for the worst opening?” Ouch.
Back to the “based on a true story” issue: We may understand why the screenwriter and director of the first Texas Chainsaw movie, Tobe Hooper took the liberties he did to add elements to the story. He knew the original story of a disturbed man in Wisconsin who was jailed for corpse mutilation. He knew that was the foundation for Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” How to update it, to make the story bankable from the box office? Move it to Texas, add a chainsaw with all its terrifying whine, and add in the standard teenager murder story elements; maybe put a mask on the villain/evil beast, to make it more terrifying — there is great terror in being pursued by nameless, faceless folk as Orwell showed us. Both Hitchcock and Hooper fully understood that the real, dull story, wasn’t something people would pay to sit through while eating grossly-overpriced popcorn.
“Won’t Back Down” suffered from sticking too close to the facts. If you’re going to claim the antagonist is psycho, you have to give them a big butcher’s knife or a chainsaw, and a costume, in order to make really, really scary.
Teachers just are not that scary in real life. Teachers are not the villains, in real life.
More (from various viewpoints):
- “Won’t Back Down”: Why This Education Movie Matters (ideas.time.com)
- NPR on the spread of parent trigger laws, September 27, 2012
- National Review’s Rich Lowry likes the movie because it pokes unions in the eye — it’s all about crushing unions, isn’t it, Rich? (Most teachers not unionized, many “unions” banned from collective bargaining.) (via Oregonian) Lowry: ” . . .a film featuring a hooker with a heart of gold, or pretty much any romantic comedy.” Teacher bashing as romantic comedy?
- Wall Street Journal, which sometimes resembles Pravda more than any American journal should, wonders whether Obama will “duck” the movie; David Feith: “The movie’s heroes are parents who demand better; its villains are bureaucrats and teachers-union bosses who stand in their way.” Forget about teachers who demand better — they’re just a different type of villain. Fictionalization just took a wrong turn in this movie.
- The Grio on the opening week, and on Viola Davis
- Viola Davis at Ebony. Maybe they should have let her produce this film.
- New York Pols Join Education Beef With Maggie Gyllenhaal (politicker.com)
- Won’t Back Down Movie Review: My (ex) PTA President’s Point of View (beccarama.com)
- A Takeover Tale (educationnext.org)