Hilary Swank's students think she's da bomb.
Every few years, it seems Hollywood is under obligation (to Satan or L. Ron Hubbard, I'm not sure yet which one) to crank out a movie about ragtag kids and the teacher that inspired them against all odds. Witness: Dangerous Minds, Music of the Heart, Dead Poets Society. Okay, maybe you can’t exactly call the upper-class prep school kids in Dead Poets Society “ragtag” per se, but the point remains. And it seems good old Lucifer is calling in his dues this year, as Paramount is releasing Freedom Writers this weekend.0p>
Freedom Writers stars Oscar®-winner Hilary Swank (Boys Don’t Cry, Million Dollar Baby) as Erin Gruwell, the impossibly naïve and fresh-faced whitey white girl from a wealthy Southern California suburb who decides she wants to make a difference in the world by teaching in a gang zone just after the Rodney King riots. Initially, she fails to command the respect of these kids who can’t see how reading Homer is going to help them with lives mired in violence. But after Gruwell loses it when she catches the students passing around a racially derogatory drawing, she starts to get real with them and finds a way to start teaching them things they really need to know.
I will confess: I went into the screening with less than great expectations. There are simply too many "I love my teacher" movies out there. And yes, Freedom Writers absolutely fits the formula: “unteachable” kids, teacher who finds a way to reach them when no one else has, administration too rooted in its ways to see the impact on the individual students' lives--you know the drill.
But all that said, I was actually somewhat pleasantly surprised during Freedom Writers. For one thing, Hilary Swank is actually an actor, so you know you’re going to see a decent performance. No hint of scrappy female boxer Maggie Fitzgerald or conflicted transsexual Brandon Teena; she really inhabits the role of tirelessly optimistic and dedicated Erin Gruwell right down to her pearl necklace and preppy sweater. The supporting cast all do their parts, well, too. And the trauma the kids endure and the lengths Gruwell goes to help them are all pretty impressive.
The script was written and directed by Richard LaGravenese (The Horse Whisperer, Beloved) and his decision not to shy away from the violence these kids endure stands him in good stead. The movie opens with disturbing footage from the LA riots, moves swiftly to a gang killing, and repeatedly immerses you in harsh slices of the kids’ lives. By doing so, LaGravanese earns the power of Grunell’s impact more than if he just showed us teenagers of color in baggy pants with bad attitude problems.
Freedom Writers is also a true story, which I’m a sucker for, and Erin Gruwell is a real teacher with a real Freedom Writers organization now. But the fact remains: Unless you’re a teacher longing to identify with your lifestyle on screen, this movie is still just another of many in an already oversaturated genre.
What's on the Disc
Like the movie itself, the Freedom Writers has a bevy of decent but predictable extras.
· Commentary with director Richard LaGravenese and actor Hilary Swank
· Deleted scenes
· "Making a Dream" - featurette (with rapper Common) on the song for Freedom Writers
· "Freedom Writers Family" - a 'making of' featurette
· Theatrical trailer
· "Freedom Writers: The Story Behind the Story" - a 'behind the scenes' featurette on the real story that Freedom Writers was based on, including interviews with the real Erin Gruwell
· Photo gallery