Release Date: January 5th, 2007 by Paramount Pictures.
The Cast: Hilary Swank, Patrick Dempsey, Imelda Staunton, Scott Glenn, Pat Carroll, April Hernandez, Kristin Herrera, Jacklyn Ngan, Sergio Montalvo, Jason Flynn.
Directed by Richard LaGravenese.
BASIC PREMISE: Erin Gruwell (Swank), a high school English teacher, inspires the students of her racially integrated class. Based on a true story.
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: In the opening scenes, Eva, a Latina high school student, narrates her experiences at home in the inner city. Before you might think she will be the protagonist, the camera shifts to Erin as she prepares for her first day on the job as the teacher of a high school English class, which Eva happens to be in. Margaret (Staunton), Erin’s stern department head, has no hope that any of her students can succeed in much of anything. She thinks Erin would be lucky to even teach them how to obey an authority figure. Of course, the students seem hostile at first, but they gradually warm up to Erin as she struggles to get their attention. It’s very fascinating to observe the different methods that she uses to try to reach out for them, some of which are quite surprising, such as a lesson about the Holocaust. Each student has some sort of painful past which subjected them to violence, whether directly or indirectly. Erin has her own problems outside of school: a husband (Dempsey) who feels neglected and her father (Glenn) who doesn’t have faith in her dream to inspire her students. Although quite formulaic and occasionally contrived and corny, Freedom Writes at least adheres to the formula of “teacher-inspires-students” quite well. Each actor, especially Imelda Staunton and Hilary Swank, gives a convincing performance which helps to make this a thoroughly engaging film from start to finish.
SPIRITUAL VALUE: The inspiring messages include the importance of expressing one’s pain and suffering—i.e. through writing in journal entries—as well as respecting other races and ethnicities. It’s surprisingly moving the way that Erin integrates the Holocaust into the curriculum. Not only do her students read The Diary of Anne Frank and visit the the Sam Wiesenthal Center to learn about the Holocaust, but actually meet up with survivors, who are played by real Holocaust survivors. Ultimately, the students learn to open their hearts and minds which gives them a chance to succeed and to be happy in the real world when they graduate high school.
INSULT TO YOUR INTELLIGENCE: Occasionally contrived and corny.
NUMBER OF TIMES I CHECKED MY WATCH: 0
IN A NUTSHELL: Thoroughly engaging, inspiring and surprisingly moving. The first great movie of 2007.
RECOMMENDED WAY TO WATCH: Movie Theater (1st Run)
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