Customer Review

72 of 78 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another great "education" film to add to my Listmania films on this genre, July 30, 2007
This review is from: Freedom Writers (Widescreen Edition) (DVD)
**A few spoilers in this review**

Amazon's has it all right in their comments on this underrated, wonderfully acted, and fair treatment of our current education system that all too often gives up on what it considers the "undesirables" present in every school, the teachers who think that they know it all (both villain and heroine in this film), and the kids who believe that they have no reason to even try to prove others wrong.

The dialogue is blisteringly realistic, sensitive, insightful, and painfully honest most of the time. In many ways there are no real villains in this film although there are two specific teachers who attempt to give Swank's character difficulty either because she is attempting to succeed where others have failed, or because she thinks she is better than others or has the key to her students' success if others would just get out of her way. It's easy to see the veteran teachers' resentment for Swank as Gruwell. She is brash, naive, overconfident, obsessive, and appears to want to outshine her colleagues although that really isn't her intent, but one can see how a veteran teacher would see her as a threat to their status which they feel, and rightly so to some degree, have earned. Simply because these older veteran teachers may not be as "on fire" as Gruwell, who is new to the profession, doesn't mean they aren't still dedicated. In their defense, Gruwell really does just dismiss their experience, expertise, and dedication to the education profession because they have become a bit more jaded by their life experiences in this profession. She does come off rather self-righteous at the wrong times such as when she's actually seeking help. Talk about ironic.

As a 17 year veteran teacher myself I understand those veteran teachers in the film, but I also recall being Gruwell's age with all its enthusiasm, shakey confidence, and out to prove something mentality. I have greatly learned to appreciate and love the new teachers that come into my school because they have the opportunity to succeed where I may have failed and the students will benefit from that, but it does have its pains too. I know that that glorious time is somewhat behind me now and passing the torch is hard. It's also hard to see one's own light diminishing while another is being lit. I think younger teachers need to be sensitive to that and Swank's character, Gruwell, is rather harsh and judgmental to those that don't "get" her style. In fact, she is so harsh that her single-minded focus doesn't let her feel others' emotional pain that her success is causing. She appears to only be focused on her mission and her kids and while that can be praiseworthy, it can be narrow-minded and heartless too. Sadly, her obsessive nature causes her marriage to collapse. She NEVER sees that coming and that is all the more sad as it shows how clueless she is regarding her own actions while so easily condeming others. In the end, neither Gruwell or her husband really comes off as the "bad guy" at the end of that relationship although people are bound to take sides. I think he's pretty shallow and weak for not standing up for himself or his marriage more until it hits a point of no return. There is plenty of fault to go around.

This is compelling film making and my wife and I talked for hours after viewing this film as she recalls my early days in education and how I am now after years of battling and bowing to belligerent parents who never believe their kid could do any wrong, abusive and manipulative students who know the system is mostly on their side now, condescending administrators who believe they have the answers when they are no longer even in the classroom environment, and demonizing politicians who always see us as the reason for all the ills in society. To add insult to injury after many years of dedication, new young teachers often come in displaying little respect to veterans as they see others not giving us respect. It's sad that they so often don't see their futures in us.

I praise new young teachers like Gruwell and world experienced but new teachers like Jamie Escalante (Stand and Deliver) and all such teachers who battle the odds to make a difference in the lives of their students. If anyone gets anything out of this film, I would hope it's a sense that all deserve respect. Films in this genre all too typically demonize the veteran teachers as has-beens who have just given up, praise the young upstart regardless of their flawed attitude at times, and put students on the same playing field as adults which they are not. This film breaks this genre's stereotypes quite a bit. I felt sincerely sorry for the disenchanted and disrespected veterans even though they were combative and jealous. I felt great respect and empathy for the young new teacher, Gruwell, for trying to make a positive change, but upset with her condescending and self-absorbed, callous attitude at times toward her colleagues and husband. I, lastly, felt great compassion for the students portrayed in this film who all too often society feels are "throwaways."

This is the kind of film that lingers in your mind long after the viewing of it is over. This film is worth renting if not owning. Enjoy.
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Showing 1-10 of 11 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 30, 2007 8:28:45 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 26, 2007 12:09:45 PM PDT
This is an insightful review. "Amen" to paragraph four. I'm also glad you finally got to see and review this one, too. One day, 'Ring' will be at the top of my movie list (LOL)! Although I did see 'Lean on Me' because of you. Keep up the great reviewing. JP

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 31, 2007 8:08:56 AM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Jul 31, 2007 8:08:56 AM PDT]

Posted on Oct 16, 2007 2:56:52 AM PDT
What a treat to find such a generous and detailed write-up of a movie. Those of us who have taught know the impact it is possible to have and the disappointment when we fail 'our' kids. Thanks for a really good review. I will acquire the film! MCM

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 16, 2007 4:23:08 AM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Oct 16, 2007 4:23:08 AM PDT]

Posted on Apr 22, 2008 12:39:38 PM PDT
Good, critical review. Be careful of over-generalizations. In paragraph four, you say, "...and demonizing politicians who always see us as the reason for all the ills in society." You lost me here. Such strong words and grossly generalized. I am finishing my third year of teaching HS English and films like this inspire me, however saccharine or sentimental. I agree that my generation should begin their teaching careers humbly and seeking advice and encouragement from veterans like you. As you concede, veterans, too, can learn from eager, young teachers like myself. It's not too late to try new techniques. The students are changing; shouldn't we?

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 24, 2008 4:58:51 AM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Apr 24, 2008 4:58:51 AM PDT]

Posted on Sep 16, 2010 9:10:39 AM PDT
What a thoughtful, insightful review, Steve, by one who has been there in both places! This film was just recommended to me, so I thought I would look up its reviews--lo and behold, but yours first!! How have you been? Did you finish your sabbatical? And?

Posted on Aug 6, 2011 9:43:18 AM PDT
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 6, 2011 10:08:17 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 6, 2011 10:24:35 AM PDT
With regard to Ashley Armstrong's comments: Your critique is focused and on target!

You are insightful, articulate and wise. Everyday, I learn from new teachers like yourself who bring enthusiasm, knowledge and well-developed skills to their colleagues. And yes, students are changing, and our jobs are not getting easier. The hue and cry from legislators and parents demanding that teachers magically achieve equal outcomes regardless of ability or ethnicity is based on ignorance.

All educators are enriched by the passion of the unjaded, and positive energy reminds us of why we entered the classroom in the first place. Ms. Armstrong,you might consider becomming a college professor one day.

Posted on Mar 28, 2012 3:20:09 PM PDT
Patty says:
Excellent review! Thank you for writing it. This is my twenty-fifth year teaching, the past eleven at Long Beach Wilson High School. Yes, THAT Wilson High School where this film takes place. I thought the film did a good job in portraying the issues at-risk students have and how difficult teaching them can be, but the Wilson in the film is not the Wilson I see today. I teach the kinds of students Erin Gruwell taught, and I don't have even close to the discipline problems she had. I have a good relationship with my students and I'm still in touch with quite a few of them today. It's helpful that Wilson instituted a uniform policy a number of years ago, so we don't see students wearing colors. When there are gang members in my classes, it's not obvious and they are not advertising that they're gang members. They are respectful and just nice kids. I can't vouch for how they act out on the street, but to me, they are sweet, wonderful kids that I will love even if they mess up in life. If this film makes the public a little more aware of what life is like for some of these kids, then it's okay that they made Wilson look like a major gang-banger school when it's not. I'll take the trade-off.
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