BY LE LE MAC
Note: This review contains a mild spoiler.
I wanted to watch this movie because I thought it would be an inspirational, feel-good film. Unfortunately, there was more cheese than inspiration.
Nona (Viola Davis) is a passionate teacher who felt demotivated in her job because she teaches disinterested, inner-city youth, until she meets Jamie (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Jamie struggles to find quality teachers in her daughter’s school, as we see her daughter’s teacher buying shoes online while the child struggles to read the word “story” that’s written on the chalkboard. Jamie sees hope in Nona because she demonstrates that she cares about teaching her students. Jamie just got that sense from watching her teach her class for about… 7 seconds. I felt the disingenuous relationship between Jamie and Nona right from the beginning.
Throughout the movie, we see the faulty school system in the US and its injustice towards the poor and the overlooked kids with learning disabilities. Jamie and Nona hit it off and combat the teacher’s union and bureaucracy in efforts to manage their own school where teachers can revitalize the gift of learning. Jamie does this by saying to the union, “The mothers who lift one ton trucks off their babies are nothing compared to me.” Cheese.
Unfortunately, the only character arc we got to witness was Nona’s. She grew from an uninspired teacher who was close to giving up to a revolution leader. I have to give the filmmakers some credit because they accomplished it while still making her seem human: She is a woman also going through a divorce and a person who made mistakes in her life.
Jamie was just annoying throughout the whole film because she was all emotion and no character. Watching the trailer, I thought she would be sassy, but Gyllenhaal only delivered raw emotions without conveying thought or intelligence. In real life, you call this kind of person “crazy.”
It was very hard to empathize with Jamie because of this performance. I was supposed to feel her frustration as a mother in a despairing situation, where the only hope that her child would attend a good school for kids with learning disabilities was a lottery system, but instead, I felt annoyance. This lack of character empathy failed to inspire me.
By the way, the film ended with Jamie’s daughter reading a speech at school and succeeding in reading the word “hope.” Get it? At the beginning of the movie, she couldn’t read “story” but she can now read “hope.” Hope-story. Double cheese.
D+ to C-[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0J5-w7a78Xg]
Le Le Mac’s passion in film started when she would watch several Chinese films a week so that she could learn how to be more fluent in her mother tongue. Her passion then led her to study film and the Asian diaspora in Canada in graduate school. She is currently writing film reviews as a hobby. She is a big fan of Radiohead and tea. She has 40 different types of tea in her collection, and will often host tea parties. She currently lives in Toronto with her husband.
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