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Movie Review

Freedom Writers

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violent content, some thematic material and language

Reviewed by: Misty Wagner
CONTRIBUTOR

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teens, Adults
Genre:
Drama, Biography, Teen, Book Adaptation
Length:
2 hr. 3 min.
Year of Release:
2007
USA Release:
January 5, 2007 (wide)
Copyright, Paramount Pictures
Copyright, Paramount Pictures
Copyright, Paramount Pictures
Copyright, Paramount Pictures
Copyright, Paramount Pictures
Copyright, Paramount Pictures
Copyright, Paramount Pictures
Copyright, Paramount Pictures
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Paramount Pictures

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Featuring: Hilary Swank, Imelda Staunton, Scott Glenn, Mario, Robert Wisdom
Director: Richard LaGravenese (Writer: “The Fisher King” and “The Horse Whisperer”)
Producer: Hilary Swank, Tracey Durning, Danny DeVito
Distributor: Paramount Pictures

“Their story. Their words.”

“Freedom Writers” is based on the real life story of Erin Gruwell (Hilary Swank), a teacher who took her first teaching position in Long Beach, California, just two years after the infamous L.A. Riots. Erin walked into her position as English teacher in room 203 full of hope and dreaming of reaching an ethnically-mixed group of freshmen, clad in pencil skirts and a string of pearls. Nothing about her fit in.

From the beginning of our story, we see that the students wanted nothing to do with the “white” teacher at the front of the class, who could never understand what they were living every day. The lives of these kids were only comparable to the lives of children caught up in a war that they had no choice but also fight in. Everything, for them, was divided by race. Any crossing of these invisible borders at any time could cause them to be jumped, or worse, killed. The film opens with very devastating scenes from the lives of a few of these students and so—when we see how hard they are on their new English teacher—we can’t help but feel empathy for them and the reasons that these fourteen year olds are hardened.

It isn’t just the students though, who oppose Erin. Her Father, whom she fears disappointing, can’t seem to support the work her heart yearns to do. He doesn’t trust her instincts, and he fears for her safety. It’s easy to see he only wants to protect her… However, when we begin to see that the school staff seems to see Erin for a fool and refuses to support her efforts with kids that they have deemed “lost causes,” we really begin to feel for the character of Erin Gruwell. She is denied the books she needs to teach them, because the school doesn’t feel the kids in her class are capable of caring for them; she is denied any special funding for field trips. and she is constantly belittled by the department head and the other English teacher.

Without anyone behind her, because even her husband (Patrick Dempsey) isn’t happy at the role she has taken on in the lives of these kids, Erin refuses to give up on them.

When a tragedy strikes the lives of a few of the schools students, Erin finally finds a way to reach these kids where they are at, with the things that they can relate to. Since the school won’t allow her to give the students the books they need, she gives them each notebooks and the instruction to journal EVERY day. What happens because of her persistence and her willingness to see things from “their side” becomes a story that changes the lives of these students, and erases the invisible borders which culturally divided them, in amazing ways.

The story isn’t just about Erin though, but also about the kids of room 203. Their stories are unbelievably heartbreaking, because they are real. It is so easy to get caught up in our day-to-day struggles, forgetting the war zone that has been in our own country.

The violence in the film is not consuming, but the talk of it is pretty heavy. The language is harsh, but this is definitely a film where it needed to be. Their lives are pretty harsh, the story line is harsh and to be taken seriously, I believe it needed to be as accurately depicted as possible.

As Christians, we need to have the willingness and empathy to see where others come from. Even though the movie doesn’t discuss what Erin’s relationship with God was (if she had one), we could all take away a lot from this story of her heart and determination. The things she sacrificed for these kids, and the ways their lives were changed makes this a modern day parable, only based in truth, about loving others above yourself.

Author photo
Hilary Swank and the real-life Erin Gruwell on the “Freedom Writers” set (courtesy Paramount Pictures)

“Freedom Writers” is adapted from the best-selling book The Freedom Writers Diary, which was a compilation of the journals written by the kids in Erin’s Freshman/Sophomore English class.

I went to this movie expecting a good movie, maybe even a good cry. I left this movie believing that, even though it is just a film, it, too, has the ability to change hearts and affect lives. I have to believe that is God working through this story. I couldn’t have been more moved by the depictions of the lives of these kids, or of Erin herself, and I highly recommend this movie to anyone who won’t be offended by the language or violent subject matter.

Violence: Heavy / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: None


Viewer Comments
Comments below:
Positive
Positive—While the movie is about the war between races at a Los Angeles area high school, don’t constrain your thinking. As my 15 year old daughter said after the movie, “Everyone has a war, only the weapons may not be guns.” Hatred is not limited to ghetto schools, and, as the movie shows, such hatred is not new.

Unfortunately, the movie emphasizes human efforts to overcome such hatred, without Godly “Love Thy Neighbor.” The movie itself suffers from script lapses, caricatures of indifferent teachers/administrators, and too little focus on the students. It is a good effort to show that hatred can be overcome, if only for a moment.
My Ratings: Average / 3
—Bill Walters, age 58
Neutral
Neutral—I thought “Freedom Writers” was a very encouraging story about a teacher that changed innercity kids lives for good and how people can change if you just give them a chance. However, I didn’t care for some of the curse words and suggested elements, but other than that it is a powerful story. I wouldn’t recommend it to children 12 and under though because of the subjects on gang violence, curse words, and the suggestive themes, but all in all it’s a very good movie.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Michal Ann, age 18
Comments from young people
Positive—…super good. …it does have like racial issues and like guns and shootings and stuff but …that’s life. My mom’s a cop and she works with stuff like that. It’s stuff that happens every day in our life, and I think that everyone should see it once in their lives.
My Ratings: Excellent! / 5
—Jazmine, age 13