Part of the reason I teach is because of those inspirational teacher movies like Mr. Holland’s Opus and Stand and Deliver. Nonetheless, I dug Freedom Writers for its portrayal of the relationship between Erin Gruwell, the inspirational teacher depicted in the film, and her students. It has its flaws, such as a one-dimensional villain and a contrived ending. Another flaw is the somewhat hazy presentation of the marriage between Erin and her husband, Scott. But it is pro-single, so it makes it into the canon.
Freedom Writers is based on a true story. Erin begins her teaching career in the racial war zone that is Long Beach, California’s Wilson High School. Her class is a microcosm of the school, and she spends much of her first few weeks breaking up fights between her diverse students. And the film follows most of the beats we see in these types of movies: teacher struggles with students at first, teacher finally breaks through to them, students adore teacher, teacher has problems with the evil bureaucrats in the administration, teacher and students conquer adversity, the end. But it has some very touching moments, and again, I loved seeing her relationship with these students develop, and Hillary Swank completely embodies Erin.
And now the pro-single part: her marriage to Scott seems happy at the beginning, but cracks begin to show as she becomes immersed in her work. I’ve seen this many times with my colleagues; sometimes, they leave teaching because their marriage is “more important,” and other times, they leave their marriage because teaching is their true calling, and, for them, inspiring many people is more important than their relationship with one person.
Erin takes the latter route, and when I scanned the Internet for her biography, I haven’t seen that she’s remarried or even been involved with another romantic partner: she lives for her work. And it’s shown in the film. Because she doesn’t get the resources she needs to truly reach her students (a reality in both K-12 and higher education systems), she takes jobs as a lingerie salesperson and hotel concierge so she can pay for those resources. Scott says, “You’re taking a second job to pay for your job?” “You play tennis on the weekends with Evan, and it gives you more time to play golf with my Dad.” Uh-huh. During their breakup scene, Scott comments, “If you were really into marriage, you wouldn’t be spending every night in the classroom with your students.” His inference is correct.
There’s also a thread about Scott’s potential to become an architect; Erin tries to play the same “inspirational figure” role with him, trying to push him into that field, which was his original dream. But, as Scott puts it, “I’m not one of your students. I don’t have any more potential.” This plotline did feel underdeveloped, but it would have come at the expense of those wonderful classroom scenes.
For the overall film, I’d give Freedom Writers a solid B. But, as a pro-single piece, A+++.