Adams Elementary School is failing. By every measurement, the school itself has received an "F" for 19 consecutive years. The odds of an Adams student going to college … 2 percent. The odds of ending up in prison are astronomically higher. As a parent, what do you do?
"Won't Back Down" is the story of two mothers who decide to take matters into their own hands and fight for their children's right for a quality education.
Maggie Gyllenhaal stars as Jamie, the feisty single mother of little Malia who is dealing with learning disabilities. To make matters worse, Malia's teacher is clearly recognized as the most inept in the school. Despite every effort, trying to come up with the money for private school, putting her daughter's name in the lottery at a respected "charter-type" school, nothing falls their way.
Viola Davis stars as Nona. She teaches at Adams and is dealing with a son who also has learning challenges. Painfully aware of her school's shortcomings, Nona eventually teams with Jamie to spearhead change. Together, they put into motion a petition where, if enough teachers and parents sign on, the school can be radically changed and fall under the petitioner's control.
Of course, the school district and the teachers union have made this action as difficult as possible and our two crusading mothers run into obstacle after obstacle, including personal attacks on their character.
Regardless of your opinion of unions, the teachers association in this film is melodramatic and cartoonish. Holly Hunter, as a union official, turns in a truly strange performance and Ned Eisenberg as the union president … well, he's ridiculous.
But still, even though we're milked for emotion here and there, I really enjoyed the film. Davis and Gyllenhaal are terrific. The two little kids, especially Emily Lind as Malia, touch the heart.
But best of all, you leave the theater feeling empowered. Maybe we don't have to settle for sub-standard opportunities for our kids, regardless of economic circumstances.
"Won't Back Down" gets 3 stars and it's only rate PG.