I'm sure the people behind "Won't Back Down" knew what they were doing when they decided to release this public school politics firebomb to theaters when they did.
Between the heated discussions resulting from its subject matter and the buzz generated by its star-studded cast (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis and Holly Hunter are the top-billed draws), opening this "inspired by actual events" movie â€“ in Wisconsin theaters especially â€“ is essentially like lobbing an active grenade into a crowd and telling each side the other was responsible.
And you know what? It was the smartest thing they could have done. Button-pushy themes and award-winning cast aside, "Won't Back Down" is what happens when you Mad Libs the "underdog movie" archetype. It's got nothing to offer cinematically speaking, so plucking the country's discords is a genius piece of movie marketing.
"Won't Back Down" is driven by Maggie Gyllenhaal's Jamie Fitzpatrick, a lower-middle class single mother juggling two jobs and a daughter with dyslexia. When she discovers the poor standard of education her daughter receives at her inner-city public school, Jamie goes full Erin Brockovich to overhaul the system.
She's reluctantly joined by teacher Nona Alberts (Viola Davis), a struggling mother herself, who acts as the proverbial inside man, and â€“ to a lesser extent -- the school's young music teacher Michael (Oscar Isaac), who surprises no one when he ends up smitten with Jamie within five minutes of their meet cute. Their challenge: to shake the school's teachers out of their cynicism and take independent control of their elementary school through a loophole law, all the while battling the school board's stagnant bureaucracy and the teachers' union's staunch opposition.
Against all odds (and to the expectations of any half-conscious audience member), Jamie's stubbornness leads her mission to victory. I'd apologize for the spoiler, but I'm not sorry. The plot is so methodical it can be worked out over its trailer from the comfort of your own home, for free.
If anything, "Won't Back Down" should be sorry for crafting a film so ironically uninspired. Those curious enough to see this yawner in theaters can navigate its plot points with all of the difficulty of a 5-year-old's Connect the Dots puzzle. Even the the movie's later attempts at powerful character revelations are set up with such deliberate and obvious means I felt like I was sitting through a kid's retelling of a bad knock-knock joke.
If anything is keeping me from completely skewering "Won't Back Down," it's the acting. Gyllenhaal, Davis and others do deliver great performances; unfortunately, it's not enough to warrant wasting two hours sitting through this pre-packaged attempt at moving drama.
The two leading ladies have plenty of better titles between them ("The Help," "Sherrybaby," "Doubt," "Secretary") in which you can watch them do the same thing with better material. "Won't Back Down" is just empty box office bait fishing for a return off a formula that's been done to death.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Renee Lorenz
Published Jan. 11, 2013
Classic gangsters loved a good embarrassment of riches. And for a movie like "Gangster Squad," showing off is fine. But, when the swanky style of the era meets the stylized swank of the movie's own excesses, things get out of hand.
Published Jan. 3, 2013
It feels like not a week goes by without someone posting something about how Facebook's invading everyone's privacy, spying on your browser history, etc., ad nauseum. (These posts are usually made on Facebook, by the way.) I understand the generic concern over the Orwellian slippery slope, but it doesn't take me too long to re-assess and arrive back at my old conclusion: Who cares?
Published Dec. 31, 2012
Although outsiders may not see Milwaukee as a hotbed for the performing arts, locals know there's plenty of talent to go around. And, there are numerous venues across the city that proudly show off area actors, dancers and musicians. But, despite the wide array of opportunities available, Katie Rhyme and Karen Zakrzewski still felt something important was missing.
Published Dec. 25, 2012
Merry Christmas, "Les Miz" lovers - I'm about to hate all over your musical.
Published Dec. 25, 2012
Well, it took director Quentin Tarantino 20 years, but he finally got his Western ... kinda. Although it's fair to say he's been preparing his entire career with his raucously bloody shoot-'em-ups, Tarantino's time warming up has been well spent if "Django Unchained" is the final result
Published Dec. 21, 2012
Unlike most middle-aged men, Judd Apatow can afford a whole garage of Camaros and Mustangs. So, it makes sense that his mid-life crisis would manifest not with a youthful car buy, but by splurging on the production of a new movie.
Published Dec. 19, 2012
They say time flies when you're having fun. I don't know who "they" are (probably those terrifyingly upbeat "glass half full" people), but they nailed it. My 2012 is a blur of exciting times and memorable moments, most of which my lawyers have advised me not to discuss in detail. There's still plenty to talk about, though, and I've shared the highlights below.
Published Dec. 18, 2012
Well, another year of movies is (almost) in the books. Full of many memorable ups and seared-in-my-brain-forever downs, here's my take on the best (and worst) of 2012.
Published Dec. 14, 2012
Eleven years after "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" introduced audiences to the majesty of director Peter Jackson's Middle-earth, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" makes a triumphant return to the mythical land with a new trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit."
Published Dec. 12, 2012
After being tasked with putting together an actual wish list, I'm legitimately afraid of the death glare I'll get if I hand over my ultra-practical, completely un-whimsical list of stuff I want. So, I'm posting it here.