Freedom Writers (2007)

RICHARD LaGRAVENESE

Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBB

Germany/USA, 2007, , , , .  Screenplay by Richard LaGravenese, based on the book The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing To Change Themselves And The World Around Them by , and the .  Cinematography by .  Produced by , , .  Music by , .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .

Oooh, here comes that crazy white lady. Yet another plucky innocent educator is thrown to young wolves in this umpteenth ‘inspiring teacher’ movie that, lo and behold, actually manages to be effective. It tells the true story of Erin Gruwell (here played by Hilary Swank), who shows up for her first year of teaching in 1994 at a Los Angeles school that has recently been ‘integrated’: kids from the projects can now go to school with upper-crusters. Within the confines of the school the students of various classes still separate, and Gruwell has the challenge of having to turn a group of angry, gang-banging, race-hating, nearly illiterate miscreants into fine, upstanding English students. To do so, she inspires them with the story of Anne Frank, and watches as they blossom from zeros to heroes in no time flat, incurring the jealous wrath of her department head (Imelda Staunton) who serves the purpose of providing the film with enough two-dimensional characters for whom you can feel guiltless hatred. Eventually, Gruwell’s students keep their own diaries about themselves that become published accounts of their lives as children without privilege, beginning a journey that leads to the creation of a foundation to help students in similar situations. Director Richard LaGravenese is perfectly aware that he’s dealing with many well-mined stereotypes–there are shades of Dangerous Minds and a million other films abounding here–but strong dialogue and Swank’s unwavering, earnest performance help to let the downsides pass without too much pain. It’s actually quite touching in spots, and at the base of all the manipulation is a story that truly does make you wonder at the power some people have to really change the world.

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