Who's in It:
Hilary Swank, Scott Glenn, Imelda Staunton, Patrick Dempsey, Mario, April Lee Hernandez
The Basics: Hollywood operates under the misinformation that there's a perpetual deficit in the movies where the earnest white teacher saves at-risk kids of color and teaches them to believe in themselves. So I had prescreening nightmares about this one. And really, who wouldn't think a movie like this would suck it from here to the Crab Nebula and back? And yet, it's surprisingly not awful.
What's the Deal? True stories turned into films, ones that stick to the truth no matter how dorky and corny that truth is, run the risk of being completely unbelievable. And the more lovey-dovey it gets, and the more you sit there and go, No way, the more it piles on the heartwarmth, daring you to call it a liar. But apparently, everything in this movie more or less happened the way they say it did, at least according to the press notes (which, you know, never lie), in which they quote the real-life teacher about how she turned her classroom into a little family. As a former middle-school teacher myself, I'm just envious that my own students remained resolute pains in the butt.
The Best Part: Because it's set in the early 1990s, you get to hear Swank talk about Tupac like the stiff honky she is. Then when she asks a student if he's "trippin'" you definitely want to hit rewind. But you can't because you're in a movie theater.
The Worst Part: She teaches the kids about the Holocaust, they read Anne Frank's diary, and then Miep Gies, the woman who hid the Franks, comes to the school. And I sat there thinking, "Oh cool, the real Miep Gies is going to be in this movie!" But then it was Pat Carroll, the actor, instead. I mean, sure, the real Gies is 97 now, but they could have digitally inserted her into the movie, right? OK, maybe not.
Shout-Out: I was surprised to see my friend Chil Kong show up as Convenience Store Owner With Shotgun. It's one of the weirder elements of living in Los Angeles when sometimes the movie gets upended because someone you know actually walks into the frame and takes you out of the fiction for a second.