What in heaven’s name are stars like Maggie Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis and Holly Hunter doing in a shabby piece of agitprop like Won’t Back Down, an anti-union polemic posing as an inspiring drama about the struggle to improve American education. Gylenhaal plays struggling Pittsburgh single mom Jamie, whose dyslexic daughter is poorly served by a failing elementary school, where the teachers and administrators are portrayed as monsters of indifference (one teacher texts on her SmartPhone while kids doze at their desks). Maggie teams up with Nona (Davis), a teacher and worried mother, and they agitate to take over the school under the fictional “Fail Safe Law,” navigating considerable red tape and opposition from lazy, tenured teachers and their unions. Lip service is paid to deeper issues like poverty, but the major villain in this morality play is Labor – the “checked-out zombie” teachers and their self-serving representatives. Even without the unsavory propaganda, the film, co-written and directed by Daniel Barnz (the son of educators), is cheaply made and a labor to watch.
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