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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Won’t Back Down | Maggie Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Rosie Perez, Holly Hunter | Review

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  4_Chicks_Small Jacqueline Monahan

Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
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Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for Lasvegasroundtheclock.com
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Won’t Back Down | Maggie Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Rosie Perez, Holly Hunter | Review

Inspired by true events, this is the story of two Pittsburgh moms, unified in the fight for a better elementary school for their children, even if that means a parent takeover.

Jamie (Maggie Gyllenhaal) finds out how this can be achieved, and promptly enlists the aid of second grade teacher Nona (Viola Davis).  Both women have offspring with special needs; Jamie’s daughter Malia (Emily Alyn Lind) is dyslexic, and Nona’s son Cody (Dante Brown) struggles in class and fears he is “slow.”  Their school, Adams Elementary, is ranked the worst in Pennsylvania.

A grass roots movement led by receptionist/bartender Jamie, a working mom with two jobs, snags a reluctant Nona and even more reluctant parents into the cause.  As a gradual, hard-won momentum builds, so does fear on the part of the powerful teachers union TAP and its leadership.  Even fellow teachers, fearing pension and tenure loss, put up resistance to the proposed charter school.

Following the personal and bureaucratic battles of both women, the film depicts a David and Goliath-like scenario with seemingly insurmountable obstacles placed in the women’s way.  Superbly acted by a fine cast including Rosie Perez, Oscar Isaac, Holly Hunter, Ving Rhames, Bill Nunn, and Marianne Jean-Baptiste, there’s a tendency by director and co-screenwriter Daniel Barnz (Beastly) to cut and dry the complex issues into black/white, good/bad nuggets for ease of audience consumption.

Although conflict resolutions happen at a much too accelerated pace, the struggle to cut through red tape is presented in a realistic, one step forward, two steps back antagonistic tango, full of warnings, head shakes, sighs and disappointments.  If there is a message to be gleaned, it’s that perseverance can be stronger than a whole network of naysayers within a slow-moving, paper-laden system of rules and regulations.

Gyllenhaal and Davis comprised the heart of this film as if they were the aorta and atria.  Gyllenhaal’s Jamie is a pinball of energy and optimism, while Davis’ more introspective Nona provides an anchor of quiet strength.  Nona’s revelation late in the film helps to explain several key elements and provides essential discovery and insight into her character.  Jamie’s go-getter persona possesses a swifter stride, but both characters arrive at an important destination in time to make a difference.

Won’t Back Down is a film that takes its own advice and succeeds in getting its point across without having it attached to a dunce cap.  For that achievement alone it makes the grade.

Four

 
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