Freedom Writers: A Movie Review

Plenty of films have been made on the theme of race. So it would be right to say that the enthusiasm levels to watch another one would be comparatively low or those who do go to see it would carry some pre-conceived notions about it being similar to previous such films. Well, that surely wouldn’t be one’s views when done watching ‘Freedom Writers’. Honestly!

Released in 2007, ‘Freedom Writers’ is a story of hope, inspiration, tolerance and courage. Based on the book, ‘The Freedom Writers Diary’ by Erin Gruwell, it has been directed by Richard LaGravenese, more known as an acclaimed, Academy Award nominated screenwriter.

Set in the aftermath of the Los Angeles riots in 1992, the film follows the lives of troubled teenagers embittered by their surroundings as well as that of their determined and optimistic teacher. Having undergone a voluntary integration programme, Woodrow Wilson High School sees its students being segregated into different groups of Cambodians, African-Americans, Latinos and Whites. Not only are these groups wary of each other but they also form part of violent gangs. Amongst this set up enters Erin Gruwell (Hilary Swank), an enthusiastic young teacher who finds herself at the other end of trust of both her students as well as her orthodox colleagues. Undeterred by the stiffness of the kids, Gruwell slowly and confidently begins to teach them. She begins to make them see how similar they are and how each one’s story is almost same. She does this mainly through her ‘then-unconventional and ‘disliked-by fellow-staff’ approaches. At one point, she brings a lot of diaries and asks her students to write whatever they want in it, be it their experiences, their struggles, their dreams. The inhibitions of the kids are slowly shed and they begin to trust and respect their ‘crazy’ teacher. They also treat class 203 as their home.

At the same time, Erin has to deal with her husband played by Patrick Dempsey as well as her father played by Scott Glenn. While the former thinks that she spends far too much time with the students and ends up neglecting their marriage, the latter thinks that his daughter is way more capable to work elsewhere than waste her time with kids that are least bothered.

‘Freedom Writers’ is a journey. It is the story of how broken yet tough kids affected by the riots begin to see hope in change. Children, who don’t even expect to live till 18, embark on making their dreams come true. But more importantly, it is the story of Erin Gruwell, who despite all odds, makes her students see that hope.

The movie also captures the plight of the Jews during the Nazi reign, the Holocaust and brings other important characters into play. One such example is Miep Gieps (Pat Carroll), the woman who sheltered Anne Frank.

The fact that the movie is based on a real-life event gives it an added appeal. In addition to that, Hilary Swank impresses viewers to a great extent with her striking performance as the excited and dogged Mrs. Gruwell. Also making a mark for themselves are key players in the movie like April Lee Hernandez who plays a strong Latino girl involved in a court case where she is expected to protect her own and Jason Finn who plays Marcus, an African-American gang member who finally looks up to Miep Gieps as his hero.

‘Freedom Writers’ will definitely make one cry, at least once. It may not be an ‘out-of-the-world’ movie but it is absolutely worth a watch and fails to disappoint. Highlighting issues of racial intolerance and gang violence, the film manages to imbibe humour within drama and emotions. The music plays to an effective level and doesn’t spoil the actual story-telling.

In all, if the film really makes an impact on you, you could also consider buying the book. I sure am going to!

Meghna Menon

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