DVD of the Week – Freedom Writers (2007)
by RISHI AGRAWAL
I realize why formulaic movies often get trashed by movie snobs. I’ll even admit to being a movie snob myself and often praise movies that surprise me. So, this week I was looking for a DVD to write about. With none of the new releases this week looking appealing, I looked back at the films I saw this year that I haven’t written about. The film Freedom Writers popped out at me, a film that I would recommend despite the fact that it never really breaks away from its expectations.
The story is a familiar one. A teacher, who was raised in a wealthy family, decides to become a teacher in an inner-city school in order to make a difference. She initially meets resistance from her students, but eventually wins their hearts and minds. If there is anything that keeps this from being a complete formula picture, it’s the fact that the students are not aligned against Ms. Gruwell (Hilary Swank), but embroiled in their own conflicts with each other.
Director Richard LaGravenese puts occasional melodramatic touches on this true-life tale, but still gives us a sense of the lack of hope in the lives of these children. And Swank really gives us a glimpse into what made Gruwell so inspiring to her students. She has her students read Diary of a Young Girl: Anne Frank and they are inspired to learn more about the Holocaust, showing a great leap forward in their thinking: the ability to see a perspective other than their own.
If you are expecting this to be anything more than a heartwarming inspirational film, then you can probably look elsewhere for something to watch. But if the story behind this film piques your interest, this is a very well-done version of the story: it is certainly better than Dangerous Minds or Stand and Deliver.
The DVD, which was released in April is available in Full Screen and Wide Screen versions, which have no special features to speak of. It is also available in HD DVD, which does feature a commentary track by Richard LaGravenese and Hilary Swank.