Movie Review by Debbie Winkler
Starring: Hilary Swank, Patrick Dempsey, April L. Hernandez, Imelda Staunton, Scott Glenn
Director: Richard LaGravenese
Release Date: 5 January 2007
Length: 123 minutes
Movie Rating: PG-13
View Format: TV
My Rating: 4/5 stars
“While her at-risk students are reading classics like The Diary of a Anne Frank, a young teacher (Hilary Swank) asks them to keep journals about their troubled lives and apply history’s lessons to break the cycle of violence and despair that threatens their futures. Scott Glenn, Imelda Staunton and Patrick Dempsey co-star in this moving drama based on real-life California educator Erin Gruwell‘s unorthodox methods.” — Netflix.com
I am a complete and total sucker for movies like this one. They are based on a true story (loosely, of course), inspirational and life changing. I got all teary-eyed watching this movie and was just marveling at the difference this one teacher had on her students. Her impact was not only felt by her students, but by their friends, their families and by the foundation that was created in her honor to try an replicate the feeling and the success that she was able to have on struggling students, especially at risk students from poor areas.
I loved all of the details about the Holocaust and that the kids really latched on to that. So many people think that history is boring and no longer relevant, but, if you look for patterns in the past, you can see the same patterns and events happening in our day. Everyone always thinks that they are the first to create something or to try something, but really, it has been done before. I hope that some of the younger viewers who watched this movie will be inspired to learn more about the Holocaust and to give history a chance.
The acting was well done in this movie. Hilary Swank surprised me as this is the first drama that I have seen her in. I thought she was capable and was not afraid to look uncoordinated and stupid to show what her character was like. I mean, who wants to be the only white person dancing in a room full of African-Americans and Hispanics? Hello, rhythm is not something that most white people are born with. Anyway, I was impressed with Swank and will have to watch some of her other material to see if she really is a good actress. The students were played by impassioned teens (some may have been in their 20s already) and I thought they were able to portray the difficulty of their lives without making you feel pity for them. You respect their challenges and applaud their courage, but you don’t feel pity. I think this is important as they do not need us to feel sorry for them, they need people to help elevate them and give them the tools to change their lives themselves.
This story seems too good to be true, but I love that some parts of it are real. I think that adults will enjoy this movie more than teens and kids, even though it is about teenagers, just because there are very few teens who are enamored with English Literature or History. I think this is a pretty understated movie in that no one suddenly dies, though there is plenty of violence in the neighborhood and there are some unexpected sequences that occur throughout the movie. This is a nice, inspirational film to watch with your family or to sit back and enjoy by yourself. A worthy rental.
This movie contains gang violence, false arrests, domestic violence, drive-by shootings, accidental gun deaths, juvenile detention, jail, some strong language, police corruption, poverty-stricken neighborhoods, discrimination, and other mature issues. Recommended for ages 13 and up.