Viola Davis. Robbed of last year’s Academy Award for best actress, is reason enough to see this highly manipulative film about two women who fight the entrenched bureaucracy of the teachers union in Baltimore. The film is fraught with fallacies, and living in a city where the teachers went on strike for a week and a half this past September, the wounds, no longer oozing, have yet to scar. Nevertheless, it was entertaining, heartwarming predictability.
Maggie Gyllenhaal plays “Jamie Fitzpatrick” a beleaguered, single mother, working two minimal -wage jobs to support her eight-year-old dyslexic daughter “Malia” (Emily Alyn Lind); the school is an abomination, failing on every level; heartless, uncaring teachers, whose dreams were slaughtered on the pyre of tenure and unworthy pupils. The exception being “Nona Alberts” (Davis) who is still harboring a dim vision of improving, inspiring the intransigent uninspired, motivationally bereft student.
Jamie and Nona join forces, command a blitzkrieg of a revolt; fighting to take over the doomed “Adams” (named for John Adams the second President of the United States) elementary school; felling one vicissitude after another, refusing to “back down”, they infuse their roles with enough legitimacy, rallying the audience to tear and cheer their failures and conquests. Davis is luminously stunning; Gyllenhall, a masterful second.
“Won’t Back Down” whether intentional or not, is reminiscent of real -life Gloria Romero (b.1955) a former California State Senator and Democratic majority leader; the first woman to hold that position; she stepped down to become chair of the Education Committee, championing, after heated debates, the “parent trigger law” which allows a majority of parents, in a failing school, to vote on a method to restructure the school. Defining, once again the “power of one” to supersede the many.
“Won’t Back Down” is melodramatic, at times erroneous, sensational, pushing the gamut of emotional buttons; in this instance, buttons that did mind the pressure.