© 2007 by C.E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
Maybe because I had one of those teachers who
made a difference in my life -- my junior high
school instructor Miss Keegan -- that I'm
something of a sucker for movies touching on
that subject. When I was a kid, I really enjoyed
GOODBYE MR. CHIPS (the original not the
musical remake),
TO SIR, WITH LOVE and even the old
television series
 Room 222. And yet, I wasn't
in all that much of a rush to run out and see
FREEDOM WRITERS, in spite of the relatively
good word of mouth. Well, I finally caught up
with the movie and I'm glad I did.
Yes, the film, written and directed by Richard
LaGravenese and starring Hilary Swank, is
packed with the standard issue cliches that
most other Hollywood films about teachers in
the inner city contain. But in the case of
FREEDOM WRITERS, those trite views are
grounded in reality. The movie was inspired by a
real-life teacher, Erin Gruwell, a rich girl with
idealistic goals who somehow managed to reach
the gang members and at-risk kids in her class
and inspire them to achieve something.

Is the film sentimental in spots? Absolutely. Did
that bother me? Nope. I watched it and got
caught up in the story and the bravado of the
movie making. Even to my cynical heart, the
idea that one person can make a difference and
the importance of treating other people in life
with respect are strong messages that
sometimes get lost in our hurried,
technologically-driven world.

Swank does a terrific job as Erin, the somewhat
awkward woman who insists on treating her
students with dignity, who fights for them
against the blase attitudes of other teachers
(like Imelda Staunton's bureaucratic,
by-the-book department head and John
Benjamin Hickey's racist honors instructor), and
who by extension gets the teenagers to
embrace learning. She introduces them to the
horrors of Nazi Germany by taking them to the
Holocaust museum and staging a dinner with
survivors (who play themselves). The class
The Diary of Anne Frank and the children
are inspired to write to Miep Gies (portrayed by
Pat Carroll), the woman who sheltered the Frank
family. And at the urging of the class, Miep Gies
is invited to visit the school when she is in
Southern California.

Is this film formulaic? Yes. Does it accomplish
what it set out to do? Yes. Although the film
truncates the story and downplays the
publication of a book based on the diaries that
the students kept which detail the daily horrors
they faced, it still is a genuinely moving and
uplifting tale. It's certainly not a perfect movie
but it does offer many pleasures.

Rating:              C+
MPAA Rating:     PG-13 for violent
                            content, some
                            thematic material
                            and language
Running time:     123 mins.
Center (l to r): Mario as André, Deance Wyatt as
Jamal and Hilary Swank as Erin Gruwell in
Photo credit: Donald Simpson
© Paramount Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.