(Updated with more reviews, film rating on rottentomatoes; new video)
It’s no surprise that critics of modern education reform — including the so-called “parent trigger” laws — would give bad reviews to “Won’t Back Down,” a Hollywood treatment of parents taking over a failed school starring Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal.
But as it turns out, people who get paid to review films don’t much like the flick, which tells the story of two mothers who work together to transform their children’s failing urban school. And in some cases, that’s an understatement: Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times wrote that the film is “so shamelessly manipulative and hopelessly bogus it will make you bite your tongue in regret and despair.”
The movie, a production of Walden Media, which is owned by Philip Anschutz, a billionaire entrepreneur and Christian conservative whose foundation supports a number of right-wing causes, opened in theaters today.
On the Web site rottentomatoes.com, with 49 reviews from critics around the country counted, the film had a 36 percent approval rating as of Friday afternoon. These critics saw through the union-bashing and the Hollywood gloss.
The film’s message is that “parent trigger” laws that set out rules that allow parents to take over a public school are a good way to effect reform. Critics say it perpetuates myths about public education, teachers and teachers unions and leaves out critical facts about how these laws actually work (or don’t work).
A Florida parent activist, Rita Solnet, wrote about her reaction to the movie here in a post about the realities the film ignores, and Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation, wrote about her reaction here.
But what about actual film critics, folks whose job it is to review movies? They are underwhelmed. Here are some quotes from reviews by people whom rottentomatoes.com has identified as a “top critic.” Twenty-eight critics are given that designation, and 23 of them blasted the movie. Five “top critics” gave the film a thumbs-up. You can see all of the reviews and other information about the movie here atrottentomatoes.com
Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post
So didactic that viewers are likely to feel less uplifted than lectured.
A. O. Scott, The New York Times
However you take its politics, the film upholds a dreary tradition of simplifying and sentimentalizing matters of serious social concern, and dumbing down issues that call for clarity and creative thinking.
Connie Ogle, Miami Herald
Americans desperately need to have some difficult conversations about the state of public education, but Won’t Back Down goes about the task too awkwardly to be helpful or interesting.
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
A film where typecasting and color-coding makes it easy to predict which characters are good or bad.
Here’s the video of a protest at the New York City premiere of the movie:
Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News
The plot is just a clothesline on which to hang an unabashedly biased diatribe.
Mary F. Pols, Time Magazine
Teachers unions are by no means perfect, but Won’t Back Down turns them into public school enemy number one.
David Germain, Associated Press
“Won’t Back Down” lives down to its bland, us-against-them title with a simple-minded assault on the ills of public schools that lumbers along like a math class droning multiplication tables.
Roger Moore, McClatchy-Tribune News Service
The big moments work, the big scenes pay off and the big emotions are earned in this plucky movie about a couple of people realizing that they can make a difference.
Peter Debruge, Variety
Grossly oversimplifying the issue at hand, writer-director Daniel Barnz’s disingenuous pot-stirrer plays to audiences’ emotions rather than their intelligence.
Melissa Anderson, Village Voice
In Davis’s case, marveling at yet another fine performance doesn’t stop you from wishing that her first leading role was in a worthier vehicle.
Barbara VanDenburgh, Arizona Republic
It’s rich territory for human drama; unfortunately, the film is more interested in slapping a charter-school Band-Aid on the gushing wound than exploring dramatic possibilities.
Ella Taylor, NPR
A propaganda piece with blame on its mind.
Andrew O’Hehir, Salon.com
Inept and bizarre … a set of right-wing anti-union talking points disguised (with very limited success) as a mainstream motion-picture-type product.
Rex Reed, New York Observer
As a message picture, its heart is in the right place. Too bad it doesn’t always manage to rise above a swirl of predictable Hollywood clichés.
David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter
The hot-button issue of public school reform gets unsubtle treatment in this pedestrian and insultingly tendentious drama.