I love teacher movies, always have, but didn't expect to love Freedom Writers. But, wow, did I ever. It was sooo much better than I expected it to be, one of the most authentic films depicting education that I've ever seen. I mean, I compare it with The Wire - the blisteringly authentic Baltimore series - and the classroom scenes really bugged me this year (in the one episode I watched... I'll give it a fairer shot when the DVD is released) because they seemed so fake. The classroom scenes here didn't, though. Class sizes were big. Kids were loud and unruly. It felt real.
So, yeah, Freedom Writers was a lot better than I expected it to be. I expected to be moved, because I pretty much always am during teacher movies, but also expected that it would be pretty cheesy. And it was, at times. I don't think it's possible to make any sort of uplifting film about education without some cheesy moments. Especially in a 90-minute film that tries to condense two years... there simply have to be shortcuts. And there were, a few. I wished the villain wasn't so cartoonish. I wish some of the relationships of characters were better explained. But, because I read the book when I was in college, I know that the film glossed over a lot of the roadblocks that Gruwell had, and also kind of knew why - there just wasn't room for them.
But it also had moments of sheer authenticity that - literally - had me crying. The scene when she wanted the kids to make a "Toast for Change" really got me, for example. And other scenes, I just felt like the filmmakers got the details exactly right, like an early scene that showed Gruwell's classes of 40 dip to 20-25 a day, but a different 20-25; this totally reminded me of teaching in Lansing City Public Schools, as the school I taught at there was (much) rougher than the school I teach at here in Baltimore City.
Random fact: Did you know that Miep Gies, the woman who hid Anne Frank, is still alive? Yes, she was born in 1909.
There is a scene that features her in the film. The kids all raised money to bring her to the school after reading Anne Frank. And that was teh truth. And, then, she says this to them:
I am not a hero. No, I did what I had to do, because it was the right thing to do. That is all. You know, we are all ordinary people, but even an ordinary secrety... or a housewive... or a teenager can, within their own small way, turn on a small light in a dark room. Yeah. I have read your letters and your teacher has been telling me many things about your experiences. You are the heroes. You are heroes every day. Your faces are engraved in my heart.
Can you imagine being there for that moment? I think that's what got me the most. I've read the book, and I know it's a true story. It wasn't like this was a filmmaker making decisions about what a cliched inner city teacher should do. She just did them. And it worked, as does the film. Wow.
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