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Movie 'Won't Back Down' fails the revenue test

October 03, 2012|By Karin Klein
  • Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal star in the school reform movie "Won't Back Down."
Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal star in the school reform movie "Won't… (Kerry Hayes / 20th Century…)

If ticket sales were standardized test scores, the movie "Won't Back Down" would qualify for a "parent trigger" takeover. Depending on which report you read, the film -- about a fictitious takeover of a low-performing school under a school reform model that doesn't exist -- either had the worst opening weekend in 30 years for a major release, or the second worst in history, or the worst ever. In any case, with about $2.6 million in sales, it flopped out of the gate.

Maybe this serves as evidence that movie audiences still heed professional film critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, fewer than 1 in 5 of the designated top critics praised the film starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis. It could be that as a movie topic, anti-union school reform measures lack sex appeal, even when dressed up in a wildly oversimplified plot and a romance that involves line dancing. Lack of marketing has been mentioned as an issue.

I was interested in "Won't Back Down," which I saw at a preview screening for teachers, not for its filmmaking qualities but because of its potential to help the public understand and care about the complicated, obscure and jargon-laden world in which people of wildly varying viewpoints are trying to end years of under-education -- students who can barely read or calculate and are far too likely to drop out of school. But as I wrote last week, the movie flunked on that score too, trying instead to portray school administrators as more sharkish than Jaws and the reformers more super than the Incredibles. It made up its own version of school reform and its own fictions about job security for teachers.

There are great dramas in the world of education, real ones. (In fact, the pro-charter school documentary "Waiting for Superman" was vastly more engaging and affecting.) Strange that the made-up versions can't touch them.

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