Pros:Swank provides another great performance, impressive true story, intriguing characters
Cons:students appear a little old for their age
The Bottom Line: Taking the high school story of troubled teens in a new direction, I thought the film was impressive in performance and presentation.
Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
Recommend this product?
Executive Producer and star Hilary Swank bring to the light the true story of the Freedom Writers of Wilson High School with this film. Taking place beginning two years after the Los Angeles riots, the entire climate has changed to one of a landscape regarding territories and those that seek to control it. Racial lines have been drawn with a lot of gang fighting, and that has carried over into how students interact at Wilson High School in Long Beach. Cliques have become the only way for a person to find security, and becoming a gang member has become as common-place as simply attending class. On her first day of school (and first day as a teacher), Erin Gruwell is walking into something for which she doesn't appear completely prepared. Her first class is a Freshman English course, where many of the students are relegated that the school feels will either be troubled, or who they feel won't succeed.
Gruwell might as well be speaking French from the response she gets from her students, but she quickly decides that this isn't something she is going to give up on, and is going to teach these students through her own methods. She feels that the key is to just challenge her students and show them that there is something out in the world worth fighting for. To them though, surviving a day on the streets is more at the fore-front of their minds, and it makes them very reluctant to see the purpose behind schooling. With other teachers refusing to assist her, and a Vice-Principal that seems more intent on just turning a blind-eye to what she considers to be "trouble makers", Gruwell is left alone to try and fight for the education of these 30-odd students. The film gives their story, as well as her story, as a teacher tries to show these students that they can find something within themselves more valuable than they had ever though possible.
Freedom Writers is a true story based on the diaries of a class of students passing through Wilson High School (in California) back in 1994. It also covers the story of teacher Erin Gruwell covering part of her published book about how she worked with these students, and how her dedication affected her life outside of the classroom. This is what brought so much realism to the film for me, because we were able to see and feel exactly what everyone in the story was going through. In order to bring that point home, there are a few sequences early on in the film where the audience gets to hear what specific students are thinking, rather than relying on only the dialogue of the characters to carry the story. This "internal dialogue" helps pinpoint the emotions that the characters are feeling, and helps bring additional realism and humor to an already tense and at times "heavy" film. It was the perfect way to deepen the characters, and to help the audience relate to what they were going through at specific moments.
Academy Award winner Hilary Swank stared as Erin Gruwell, but also was the Executive Producer of the film. At first I had not understood why she choose to do a film that followed in the line of something like Dangerous Minds, but this subject material was actually more authentic and varied than I had expected in the latest film about teen-angst in a high school setting. I actually found it to be very original in depiction, and even though some of the characters could fall into what we would call a "stereotype" now, I think the younger actors/actresses did a great job portraying them. The only fault I found was with the casting, in that not many of them looked as young as the characters they were playing, and instead appeared to be a little older. Throw that little "nit-pick" out, and I found the film very enjoyable for its story about these students and their teacher who was willing to do anything for them. Hilary Swank was great as Gruwell, Patrick Dempsey was decent as her husband, and Scott Glenn was good as her father. Combined with some talented youngsters the cast creates a winner with this film, and one which the real-life characters can be proud.