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Won't Back Down 

A cliché-ridden "inspirational" drama about school choice is a poor lesson

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Twice in this film, a struggling single mom counsels interrogators not to talk down to her. If only Daniel Barnz's film had heeded its own advice. This "inspired by real events" drama about two women working to reform the public-school system treats its audience like we're in a remedial class for tough issues. Or, to put it another way: Barnz takes the complex issue of school choice, and reconfigures it as an underdog-teams sports weepie. (With sports. Half the film's budget appears spent on Pirates, Penguins and Steelers gee-gaws. The story is set in Pittsburgh, but didn't actually happen here.)

So we get two plucky women attached to a failing public elementary school — a teacher (Viola Davis) and a manic, perky mom (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Barnz layers on the Lifetime — money troubles, a bad husband, kids with learning disabilities — and then pits the can't-possibly-win pair against the well-funded enemy, the teachers' union. If you don't know what happens, well, then you've never seen the movie where the team rallies behind a locker-room speech, has a boozy night bonding, wins in the very last second with an out-of-nowhere save and lives happily ever after in a cheery epilogue. These actresses — and this complicated issue — deserve better than a shmaltzy feel-gooder scored with a second-rate Tom Petty song.

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