It's hard to believe 'Freedom Writers' is based on a true story as you watch the lives of the disadvantaged children in it unfold. The grit of the wrong side of the tracks has been glossed over for the most part and what we're left with is a watery tale of education saving the day.
Erin Gruwell (Swank) has just accepted her first teaching assignment, disciplining the rowdy and streetwise teenagers at Woodrow Wilson High School, in the aftermath of the Rodney King Riots. Fresh to the world of education, she has a totally rosy view of the impact that she can have on the students, believing she can change the world, simply by moulding the attitudes of those in her class. It's all very noble but as you'd expect it gets a little preachy after about 10 minutes.
Her long-suffering husband Scott (Dempsey) warns her of the dangers of becoming too immersed in the lives of the kids she's teaching. Her father (Glen) instantly writes the job off as beneath Erin. And the established teachers at her school, Margaret Campbell (Staunton) and Brian Gelford (Hickey), are having none of her fairytale vision of a better world, making for some clashes down the line.
As the film is based on a true story we have to presume that this is how events played out at the time but it makes for very annoying viewing. If we could see a little more resistance or maybe more of the senseless gangland violence that the students lived though then this story could have been a compelling one.
'Freedom Writers' is supposed to be a feelgood movie, that presents a story of triumph over the odds, the power of education and the positive impact that one person can have on a community. But none of these elements are easily translated for the screen without the cringe factor, which sadly takes over completely here. For what it's worth, Swank plays the nerdy, naive do-gooder comfortably but is at times left in the shadow of Imelda Staunton's hard-faced, old-school teacher.
By the end we're left feeling that we've seen everything in this movie before and its last outing, as 'Dangerous Minds', tugged at the heart strings more and presented a far more realistic view of a disadvantaged community.