Dave White
Half Nelson Review

Dave's Rating:

4.0

… unusual and politically metaphorical …

Who's in It: Ryan Gosling, Shareeka Epps, Anthony Mackie

The Basics: A young, white, crack-head middle-school teacher and the sole student who knows his secret — a tough 13-year-old African-American girl — become unlikely friends.

What's the Deal? I used to be a middle-school teacher myself, and I can tell you from experience with teachers who were just run-of-the-mill drunks that if you're messed up on a controlled substance and nodding off in class, more than one person is going to find out. And if it's a kid, they're going to tell everyone. And you're going to be fired long before you get a chance to get high and act a fool at the school dance by doing a doggy-style hump 'n' bump with the child on the gymnasium floor. Oh, yes, he does that.

What School Is This, Anyway? It's the one in which administrators just roll their eyes instead of writing you up when you show up cracked-out, refusing to abide by even one bit of the curriculum. It's the magically overstaffed inner-city school where there are a manageable 15 kids per classroom. And it's the one where all those kids are at least quiet and reasonably attentive, if not downright fascinated by your lectures on dialectics. This is an otherwise decent movie that fails its setting as much as any movie like Dangerous Minds.

What's Good About It: Gosling's performance is great, and young Epps is incredible as the deadpan kid who's got her teacher's number. And the story itself is unusual and politically metaphorical in an understated way. So it's got that going for it.

What the Title Means: It's the wrestling move in which you disable your opponent and use his weakness against him, and the idea works on a chemical, personal and political level. It's got more going on than most American indie movies I've seen lately, but I'm still cranky about the fakey teacher details.

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