*** (out of 5)
January 5, 2007
Hilary Swank as ERIN GRUWELL
Patrick Dempsey as SCOTT CASEY
Scott Glenn as STEVE GRUWELL
Imelda Staunton as MARGARET CAMPBELL
April L. Hernandez as EVA
Mario as ANDRE BRYANT
Kristin Herrera as GLORIA
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Directed by: Richard LaGravenese
BY KEVIN CARR
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I’ll admit that when I saw the schedule for “Freedom Writers” to come out the first week in January, I was a bit worried. The uber-inspriational film about a teacher that drags kids out of an at-risk classroom seemed to be primed for awards season. However, it’s been released just after the deadline for consideration.
However, after watching the film, I understand why it wasn’t released in December. The studio was being realistic, considering this type of film has become a basic formula picture and no longer holds the hope for Oscar gold the way movies like “Dead Poet’s Society” once did.
Often, movies in January (which, along with August, is considered a down time for quality films), it’s a matter of knowing what you’re getting into. If you like the formula being presented, you’ll most likely enjoy the film – no matter what us stuffy critics might say.
“Freedom Writers” tells the story of Erin Gruwell (Hilary Swank), a recent education graduate in L.A. right after the Rodney King riots. She gets a job in a Long Beach high school, hoping to inspire the at-risk students to embrace the classics.
Of course, the kids aren’t all that keen on learning about Homer and the other ancient Greeks. This sudden reality check inspires Gruwell to develop some unorthodox teaching methods to capture the kids’ interest. After several misfires, she starts to connect with them. Pat of her method is to encourage them to write in journals, which gives her a window into their dangerous world.
While the “Based on a True Story” moniker of a movie is not longer that significant to me, considering everything from “The Pursuit of Happyness” to “Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights” carried that label. You just can’t believe the hype any more for these true stories. Still, I have no reason to disbelieve the story in this film.
At times, the film has trouble keeping focus. Because Hilary Swank is the star and the anchor to the film, the movie focuses mostly on how the events affect her. However, the most interesting aspects of the movie are about the kids and the struggles they face. The real drama comes in the students’ lives, and sometimes the filmmakers forget this.
Still, there’s plenty of interesting things going on in Gruwell’s personal life. Her husband, played by Dr. McDreamy himself Patrick Dempsey, reveals the problems with the life she leads. While she is devoted to her students, she allows her relationship to crumble. The movie doesn’t pull punches on this and also doesn’t make him that much of a bad guy. It makes sense. After all, I would leave her too if I were married to her.
The only other real wart on this film is the overly antagonistic characters that try to stand in Gruwell’s way. Imelda Staunton, who is normally a very solid actor, comes off as a James Bond villain. Her role as the department head trying to block Gruwell’s efforts is so over the top and unrealistic that it just took me out of the film.
As an inspirational teaching movie, “Freedom Writers” nails the formula. It pushes all the right buttons and definitely has it’s moments. It’s not the most original or fascinating films around. To be honest, I’ve seen most of this before in other films like “Stand By Me” and “Stand and Deliver.” But if you like this kind of movie, it shouldn’t be a waste.