Fresh out of training, young teacher Erin Gruwell (Hilary Swank) arrives for her first job at Wilson High and is thrown into the deep end with a class of ethnically mixed juvenile delinquents, most of whom are underprivileged and/or racial gang members. They are not interested in Homer unless it's Simpson, but Erin perseveres, much against the wishes of her department head Margaret Campbell (Imelda Staunton) and other colleagues who think Erin is wasting her time on kids who are destined for the dustbin of society. Slowly and with difficulty, Erin finds a way to capture their attention just as they manage to capture hers and they change each other. The diaries she encourages them to write as part of the English learning process comes to be christened Freedom Writers, alluding to the civil rights activists, Freedom Riders, who rode on racially integrated buses in the 60s, 30 years before.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Richard LaGravenese's film, based on the book by Erin Gruwell herself, is a moving example of how one person can make a difference, and for all the right reasons, all contained within the inspirational classroom drama genre. Hilary Swank is terrific as Gruwell, whose marriage broke up partly as a result of her endless hours spent with the kids, even after hours. She starts as a naïve newcomer whose ideals are her strength; but they are not merely ideals to talk about, but to act on. She ruffles the feathers of her colleagues, confronts her class with their ignorance and is herself confronted by their violent, depressing reality. Their grungy appearance contrasts with Erin's classy clothes and pearls, yet her prospects of success here seem as dim theirs.
The encounter changes them all, and the film is the story of how that change occurs, what pain it brings and what it achieves. The real story is even bigger, longer and complex, but the film does it justice, even thoug it is flawed; there isn't much sense of the time span, other than a caption to indicate a new semester, and some of the early scenes are unclear. Perhaps inevitably due to compression, the resolution seems a bit too pat. But the performances are superb, notably all the kids in the class, whose lives appear hopelessly pre-determined, destined for waste.
The film tugs at our hearts with its sincerity while the uplifting moments are hard earned by a difficult journey. It's a life lesson and an insight into then human condition, showing both its darkest and brightest sides.
Review by Louise Keller:
Hilary Swank is all heart in this uplifting film about kids from the wrong side of the track who become inspired to learn and do the right thing. Racial prejudice and discrimination are the key issues, with Swank as the idealist teacher driven by her desire to make a difference. What rings true about this inspiring story based on a book, is the way Swank's Erin Gruwell gets through to her students. It is her perseverance and intuition that allow her to find the right approach. Then, it is through her own blood, sweat and tears that a bond is formed, enabling trust and respect. Moving without being hindered by sentimentality, Freedom Writers sucks us into the tough world of multi-cultural gangs, as we are hit hard emotionally, while simultaneously being entertained.
'You have no idea what you're doing up there have you?' asks Eva (April Lee Hernandez) when Gruwell faces her new class, wearing pearls and an enthusiastic grin. But instinctively, Miss G as she is called, finds a way to connect with her 'soldiers of the street', who battle their own life and death issues on a daily basis outside the school. 'To get respect, you have to give it,' she tells her class, asking them to diarize their thoughts and experiences. The effect of a pen, instead of a gun becomes a natural catharsis - especially as their work will only be read at their own request.
Richard LaGravenese's poignant screenplay and direction makes everyone's plight real - from the street violence to Gruwell's marriage breakdown. There is an edge to all the relationships and I like the scenes in which Gruwell and her husband (Patrick Dempsey) face their conflicts. Imelda Staunton's blinkered, prejudiced school teacher represents the establishment, as Gruwell juggles three jobs to enable her charges to open their eyes as they get first hand life experience. The young cast is outstanding and the juxtaposition of the plight of their characters with the revelation of their study of The Diary of Anne Frank is one you will not forget.
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FREEDOM WRITERS (M)
CAST: Hilary Swank, Scott Glenn, Imelda Staunton, Patrick Dempsey, April L. Hernandez, Mario, Kristin Herrara,
PRODUCER: Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher
DIRECTOR: Richard LaGravenese
SCRIPT: Richard LaGravenese (book by Erin Gruwell)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jim Denault
EDITOR: David Moritz
MUSIC: Mark Isham, RZA
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Laurence Bennett
RUNNING TIME: 123 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 22, 2007