Hilary Swank stars in “Freedom Writers,” a fairly run of the mill inspirational-teacher-inspires-inner-city-kids movie, now available on DVD.
The film is based on the true story of Erin Gruwell (Swank), an idealistic high school English teacher who forges a connection with her defiant students through lesson plans about the Holocaust. Inspired by “The Diary of Anne Frank,” Gruwell’s students kept their own journals chronicling their experiences with poverty and gang violence, which Gruwell eventually compiled into a book–“Freedom Writers.”
“Freedom Writers” touches on political subjects such as forced integration of schools and learned racism, but falls short of making any profound statements. The movie is held together by the fact that it illustrates real events, and the viewer’s knowledge of that fact makes otherwise cheesy scenes â€” such as when the students meet with Holocaust survivors, among them the woman who sheltered the Frank familyâ€”moving.
Gruwell’s tireless perseverance in getting her students to realize their potential — including holding down three jobs to pay for "extras" such as field trips and new books — is admirable, and Swank deftly captures her na¯ve enthusiasm. But the Oscar-winning actress’s upper-middle class shtick is at times cringe-worthy, especially when she utters lines like "my badness" in an attempt to fit in with a classroom full of mostly minority students. It’s “Dangerous Minds” with a PG-13 rating.
Patrick Dempsey has a throwaway role as Gruwell’s neglected husband, Scott.
Extras on the DVD include deleted scenes and a "Story Behind the Story" featurette which touches on the actual events that were the basis for the movie.