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Freedom Writers

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Freedom Writers proves that one person can make a difference. Read on:

You have to assume that it’s a sign of humanity’s general goodwill that there are so many stories like Freedom Writers to tell. Needless to say it helps that this film, like many other recent entries in the canonized genre, is based on a true story. But whether it’s The Blackboard Jungle, Stand And Deliver, Dead Poets Society or Dangerous Minds, there’s more than a little to be gained by offering a reminder that one person — specifically, a determined teacher — can make a difference.

However, one can’t help but wonder if all that goodwill necessarily translates into audience interest at the box office. Dead Poets Society is the top earner of all documented “good teacher” flicks, with $95 million in receipts. But most similar movies petered out at around $40 million, which hardly seems like enough to sustain the subgenre through more installments. All of which begs the question: Is Freedom Writers actually any good? The answer, thankfully, is yes. But will you care one way or the other? We’re not so sure.

The film features an estimable pedigree of acting talent, anchored by multiple Oscar-winner Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby) as Erin Gruwell, an heirloom-pearl-clad young teacher who is thrown into a world of gangs and drugs when she starts work at a Long Beach high school. Despite admonitions from coworker Margaret Campbell (Imelda Staunton) that they cannot be instructed, Gruwell teaches her kids about Holocaust survivors like Anne Frank and then encourages them to create journals to tell their own stories. Meanwhile, her husband Scott (Patrick Dempsey) and father Steve (Scott Glenn) fear not only for her physical safety, but her increasingly dogged commitment. As she encounters more and more opposition for her ambitious plans (including from her superiors) Gruwell is forced to decide how far she will go in order to inspire her disaffected, gang-member students to actually care about getting an education.

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