Diary Inspires Freedom for Swank
If there hadn't been so many notable movies already made which cover the territory of inspirational teacher in a class of no hopers then "Freedom Writers" would have been a truly brilliant movie, an inspirational yet entertaining adaptation of a true story which touches your hearts. But it is in a field, almost a sub genre of many other notable movies and as such "Freedom Writers" comes across as a little formulaic and predictable as certain scenes feel all too familiar to scenes in other movies. That doesn't take anything away from the true story, the inspirational teacher helping a class succeed when the system had given up on them but it does feel all a little too familiar.
Enthusiastic and idealistic new teacher Erin Gruwell (Hilary Swank - The Black Dahlia) is given the tough task of teaching a class of children who belong to gangs or come from broken homes. But she is determined to make a difference in their lives even if that means banging heads with the education authorities and taking on a second and third job to pay for trips and material which the school won't provide. But all this effort and dedication comes with a heavy personal price.
As an inspirational class room movie "Freedom Writers" starts all too predictably, the young enthusiastic teacher with idealistic notions thrown to the lions in a class full of tough kids from gangs and broken homes. It's all a little familiar and so are a few subsequent scenes as she tries to gain their attention whilst also banging heads with the school authorities over the way they are taught. To be frank if "Freedom Writers" had continued to just churn out these familiar scenes it would have ended up being rather plain and disappointing.
But there are other elements to "Freedom Writers" which makes it more interesting. Unlike many similar inspirational TV movies the main character Erin Gruwell also has a husband and her enthusiasm for teaching, to the point she gets 2 other jobs to provide them with material the school won't, affects the relationship. It's a small sub plot but takes some of the emphasis away from just turning the lives around for her class and focuses on how it affects her away from the classroom. It makes the movie more rounded, as does her relationship with her father who had once been a civil rights activist but now seems to have given up fighting, brain washed by society.
All of this is good but what makes "Freedom Writers" different is that it's not really about making the lives of these kids better by giving them a good education and the chances which others get. It's about making them understand that they don't have to follow suit, to be part of the gangs and essentially be free from what society expects. It gives "Freedom Writers" almost a different flavour, a more emotional one at that. Listening to the actors narrate the journal entries, reading about the events in their lives paints a real, sometimes shocking picture of what their lives are like yet you watch as they learn through lessons on the holocaust and Anne Frank about freedom inspiring a change in attitude towards each other and it is touching.
But there is something annoying about "Freedom Writers" and that is Hilary Swank, annoying because there are times when Swank is purely brilliant delivering the reality of an enthusiastic, idealistic teacher yet also the stress and emotion of not only a tough class but also an education system which seems to have a chip on its shoulders. Yet there are moments when all that reality of a real character is lost by some total dappy cuteness which feels out of place in what otherwise is a brilliant performance. Alongside Swank is the wonderful Imelda Staunton who delivers a painful but realistic portrayal of a battle axe of a teacher with bigoted views. It's not a nice character but a truly wonderful performance from Staunton.
As for the young actors who play the various pivotal characters in her class, well frankly they all do a rather good job. Their performances feel real although a couple of them do look too old to be authentic high school kids.
The only other negative when it comes to "Freedom Writers" is that occasionally whilst following that familiar formula of inspiration it does include some rather cloying and fake feeling scenes with the completely out of place dance scene being one of the most annoying. It may well have happened but it just doesn't feel right as if it's been inserted into the movie because other similar movies have a dance scene.
What this all boils down to is that "Freedom Writers" is a pretty good movie which delivers that inspirational tale of a teacher in a class of no hopers. As such it does feel quite familiar, but there are enough unique aspects to the tale to make it feel a little different to all the others. It's not the best inspirational classroom movie but it is by no means the worst either and for all the emotional highs and lows is enjoyable to watch.