Freedom Writers

"Very Good"

Freedom Writers Review


It's always satisfying when a movie defies an obvious formula and delivers something better. Freedom Writers is the first such surprise of 2007, a genuinely touching entry in a genre that often wallows in cliché: a motivational teacher inspiring a group of troubled kids.

The list in this category is long, and the quality broad, ranging from To Sir, with Love (Sidney Poitier straightens up hooligans) to Sunset Park (Rhea Perlman coaches hoops!). Instead of sliding into pitfalls of predictability, writer Richard LaGravenese (The Fisher King, Beloved), who also directs, relies on straight, unforced dialogue delivered by a fine cast. Like many similar films, this one happens to be based on truth.

Hilary Swank is focused and confident as Erin Gruwell, a well-scrubbed, bushy-tailed teacher in 1994 Long Beach, California, where memories of the '92 riots still waft in the air. Her class is made up of blacks, Latinos, and Cambodians, many stuck in gang situations and horribly broken families. While these kids fight -- often literally -- for acceptance and territory, school is an unnecessary nuisance. But as Gruwell goes above and beyond to aid her kids, attending class becomes the students' only respite from a frightening world.

You can imagine how hokey this could have turned out in the wrong hands. But Freedom Writers strikes the right chord by omitting or twisting the obvious. When Ms. G loses her cool with the class after a student is ridiculed, she doesn't deliver some contrived "we're all equal" speech; instead, she explains how the Nazis used propaganda to become the most horrible "gang" ever. With a wonderful command of intensity and vulnerability, Swank exclaims, "You think your gangs are tough? This gang took over countries."

When the kids speak their minds, via journals that became the real-life Freedom Writers Diary, the monologues ring true with detail, full of hatred and sadness. The actors performing them, particularly young April Lee Hernandez, tear into the material, and LaGravenese balances just enough backstory for us to feel the pain.

Freedom Writers reminds me of a time when there were a glut of LA gang films, most well meaning, some exploiting the issue as a Hollywood commodity, all illuminating a true American tragedy. Now, more than a decade later, crime has decreased in LA, but interracial gang violence is on the rise, a fact that's virtually out of the national consciousness. That's the current crime: Young people still suffering like those in this film, making the desperation of Freedom Writers that much more powerful.

Gruwell may sympathize with her students' plight, but she never appears to feel sorry for them. Swank's portrayal avoids an epiphany moment, or the conventional ebb and flow emotions. Instead, her Erin Gruwell keeps plugging and chugging, devising new ways to impart that energy to her kids with nary a ridiculous fist pump in sight. Just giving them new paperback books wins their respect and rightfully so.

Some of the standard plot points are unavoidable. Gruwell alienates her husband, played impressively well by Patrick Dempsey, by the way. She has a heart-to-heart with her father (Scott Glenn). She chooses to battle cynical teachers and immovable Board of Education regulations. Although some may find the execution a little too textbook (pardon the pun), LaGravenese keeps everything feeling just a little different. When Freedom Writers does work, it works very well.

Who's fabulous!?



Freedom Writers

Facts and Figures

Run time: 123 mins

In Theaters: Friday 5th January 2007

Box Office USA: $36.5M

Box Office Worldwide: $41.2M

Budget: $21M

Distributed by: Paramount Pictures

Production compaines: MTV Films

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 69%
Fresh: 86 Rotten: 38

IMDB: 7.5 / 10

Cast & Crew

Starring: as Erin Gruwell, as Scott Casey, as Steve, as Margaret Campbell, April Lee Hernandez as Eva, Kristin Herrera as Gloria, Deance Wyatt as Jamal, Gabriel Chavarria as Tito, as Brian Gelford, as Dr. Carl Cohn, as Miep Gies, Will Morales as Paco, Ricardo Molina as Eva's Father, Angela Alvarado as Eva’s Mother, Tim Halligan as Principal Banning, Palma Lawrence Reed as Grant's Mother, Giovonnie Samuels as Victoria, as Ben, Vanetta Smith as Brandy, Jaclyn Ngan as Sindy, Sergio Montalvo as Alejandro

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Movie Review

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Movie Review

After the thunderous reception for J.J. Abrams' Episode VII: The Force Awakens two years ago,...

Daddy's Home 2 Movie Review

Daddy's Home 2 Movie Review

Like the 2015 original, this comedy plays merrily with cliches to tell a silly story...

The Man Who Invented Christmas Movie Review

The Man Who Invented Christmas Movie Review

There's a somewhat contrived jauntiness to this blending of fact and fiction that may leave...

Ferdinand Movie Review

Ferdinand Movie Review

This animated comedy adventure is based on the beloved children's book, which was published in...

Brigsby Bear Movie Review

Brigsby Bear Movie Review

Director Dave McCary makes a superb feature debut with this offbeat black comedy, which explores...

Battle of the Sexes Movie Review

Battle of the Sexes Movie Review

A dramatisation of the real-life clash between tennis icons Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs,...

Shot Caller Movie Review

Shot Caller Movie Review

There isn't much subtlety to this prison thriller, but it's edgy enough to hold the...

Advertisement
The Disaster Artist Movie Review

The Disaster Artist Movie Review

A hilariously outrageous story based on real events, this film recounts the making of the...

Stronger Movie Review

Stronger Movie Review

Based on a true story about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, this looks like one...

Only the Brave Movie Review

Only the Brave Movie Review

Based on a genuinely moving true story, this film undercuts the realism by pushing its...

Wonder Movie Review

Wonder Movie Review

This film may be based on RJ Palacio's fictional bestseller, but it approaches its story...

Happy End  Movie Review

Happy End Movie Review

Austrian auteur Michael Haneke isn't known for his light touch, but rather for hard-hitting, award-winning...

Patti Cake$ Movie Review

Patti Cake$ Movie Review

Seemingly from out of nowhere, this film generates perhaps the biggest smile of any movie...

The Limehouse Golem Movie Review

The Limehouse Golem Movie Review

A Victorian thriller with rather heavy echoes of Jack the Ripper, this film struggles to...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.