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Freedom Writers
This story has already been written
Freedom Writers
Hilary Swank Stars in "Freedom Writers".
OPENING WEEKEND: $11,000,000
DOMESTIC TOTAL: $55,000,000
OTHER PREVIEWS: Alatriste (7/10)
  This Film is NOT a Future Release.
  The Following Preview has been Archived.

August 23rd, 2006: Erin Gruwell (Hillary Swank) is an ambitious 23-year old who has just landed a position as a teacher at a High School in one of the roughest urban California neighborhoods. She is assigned a group of students that have been deemed “unteachable,” but is hopeful about helping them make progress. Unsurprisingly, she is met with both ambivalence and hostility, but her fearless determination helps her find the right approach. When she introduces the kids to literature about the Holocaust, she finds that the majority is completely unaware of the tragic events that transpired decades ago. Her lectures on the harrowing history open up levels of consciousness the students have never experienced before. Eye-opening stories of violence, injustice, and intolerance help the kids find parallels in their own lives and inspire them to seek escape from their miserable environment. Erin encourages her students to start writing about their own experiences and through their awe-inspiring confessions the students achieve an overwhelming level of self-satisfaction. All 150 of them go on to graduate from school and eventually attend college.

What to Expect: The film is based on actual events that occurred at Wilson High School in Long Beach, California. Erin Gruwell’s incredible relationship with her 150 teenage students can be traced back to a single unusual incident. One day, she intercepted a note with racist undertones, which prompted her to proclaim that that sort of mentality is what originally led to the Holocaust. When her reference was met with completely bewildered expressions, she realized just how sadly uneducated the kids were. At that point, she decided to help the students learn tolerance by discussing books like Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Sarajevo. Strangely enough, the kids found her lectures illuminating and discovered that many of her lessons were quite relevant in their daily lives. She further encouraged them to write down their personal experiences in journals, which opened up the students to entirely new means of expression. They dubbed themselves “The Freedom Writers” in an homage to the civil rights activists known as “The Freedom Riders.” Their remarkable turnaround became a national sensation and led to television appearances and coverage in People Magazine. All 150 of “The Freedom Writers” graduated from High School, while Gruwell went on to become a visiting professor at California State University in Long Beach.

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The story is adapted from a book written by Gruwell and “The Freedom Writers.” In The Freedom Writers Diary, Gruwell interspersed her narrative text throughout a collection of actual entries from her students’ own diaries, with powerful results. Writer-director Richard LaGravenese, whose only major credit is probably the charming dramedy Living Out Loud, seized the opportunity to put the inspiring story on the big screen. His only other directorial effort is the documentary A Decade Under the Influence, which he made with the late Ted Demme. Perhaps given the nature of the fact-based story in Freedom Writers, LaGravenese will blend both feature film and documentary techniques to give the movie a sense of the necessary realism.

Of course, two-time Academy Award winner Hillary Swank is the outright star of the picture and seems perfectly suited for the role, unlike for her part in The Reaping. Instead of the all-out, brawling, in-your-face characters of the past like in Million Dollar Baby, Swank will try to achieve moments that are quietly inspiring. I don’t think she will have any problems playing Erin Gruwell. Oscar nominee Imelda Staunton, who received a nod for her fascinating portrayal of a woman that illegally conducted abortions in 1950s Britain, will play one of Gruwell’s colleagues. Ironically, it was Swank that beat out Staunton for the golden statuette a couple of years ago. Veteran journeyman actor Patrick Dempsey (With Honors, Scream 3) will play Gruwell’s husband in the film. Finally, Pat Carroll, who has voiced numerous characters in many of her past projects, will play Meip Geis. Geis is the courageous Dutch woman that sheltered Anne Frank and her family during World War II and eventually ran into “The Freedom Writers” through an arranged visit to California.

Reportedly, many of the students’ journal entries are powerful enough to leave a lasting impression on any person. Some are eye-opening, some are life-affirming, while others are quite harrowing. However, Gruwell’s battle against ignorance and against the odds is not an altogether unique story. It is precisely the sort of stuff Hollywood practically lives on, year-to-year. An immediate comparison is the similarly themed Dangerous Minds, which starred Michelle Pfeiffer as the remarkably strong-willed teacher. It seems like a potential awards contender, but currently the film’s release date has been pushed to January, which is where movies go to be forgotten. There’s always a possibility that it could get a limited December opening to qualify.

In Conclusion: Simply put, Freedom Writers sounds too easy. The stereotypical Hollywood underdog stories can be divided into two general categories: the sports cinderella and the academic underachiever. It’s quite obvious as to which category Freedom Writers falls under as it fits into the mold very neatly. Watching the teacher and her students inspire each other to become better people is likely to resonate with just about everyone, including me, but it will probably fail to convey any new emotions. It’s always tricky to criticize a film when it is based on a true story, but let’s not be naďve. Hollywood producers always find a way to dress them up with plenty of melodrama. LaGravenese may be able to keep the story grounded just enough and audiences should respond with a warm reception to the movie.

Similar Titles: Mona Lisa Smile, Dangerous Minds, Renaissance Man
January 5th, 2007 (wide)
April 17th, 2007 (DVD)

Paramount Pictures

Richard LaGravenese

Hilary Swank, Imelda Staunton, Patrick Dempsey, Scott Glenn, Mario, Pat Carroll, April Lee Hernandez

Total: 56 vote(s).


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Rated PG-13 for violent content, some thematic material and language.

123 min





Freedom Writers at AskMen.com

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