Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Won’t Back Down vs. Here Comes the Boom, two movies with proactive takes on education reform.
PremiseEach trailer kicks off with the grating yet familiar ring of a school bell and the stench of budget cuts lingering in the halls. Here Comes the Boom presents an all-too common scenario: a high school with a budget problem scraps extra-curricular activities to save cash. But one biology teacher, who appears to be nothing more than a glorified physical education teacher, Scott Voss (Kevin James), turns to mixed martial arts fighting to quickly (and unrealistically) raise money for his students.
In Won’t Back Down, allegedly inspired by actual events (duh, like poverty and failing schools), single mom Jamie Fitzpatrick (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is fed up with the quality of her daughter’s inner-city public school education and the ambivalence of her teachers. Unable to afford private school, Jamie is determined to take the matter into her own hands by rallying against the corrupt bureaucracy of the board of education. Advantage: Won’t Back Down
Mom vs. TeacherJamie’s grassroots scrappiness conjures fond memories of kickass denim jacket-sporting moms with Starbucks in hand of yore—like Weeds’ Nancy Botwin, just without the drug dealing and questionable priorities. When the trailer shows a scene in which her daughter, Malia (Emily Alyn Lind) is horrifyingly locked in a janitor’s closet as a punishment for “not following the rules,” we see Jamie fiercely get up in the faces of authority figures with her daughter’s best interests at heart. On the other hand, mentally, Scott Voss still very much exists in the high-school environment in which he teaches—by literally rolling into class late (through the window, of course), taking his anger out on a vending machine, and pranking his students. We’re not entirely convinced that our reluctant hero’s efforts to raise money are inspired by anything more than his desire to impress and date coworker Bella Flores (Salma Hayek) and win the pathetic popularity contest in his head.Advantage: Won’t Back Down
DirectorDirector and frequent Adam Sandler collaborator Frank Coraci has let us down plenty of times with his particular brand of goof. We will never forgive Zookeeper or Around The World in 80 Days, but as the director of The Wedding Singer and The Waterboy, we’ll try to overlook them as minor transgressions. Writer-cum-director Daniel Barnz’s Phoebe in Wonderland may have received acclaim at Sundance in 2008, but he still has much to prove.Advantage: Here Comes the Boom
Playground RomanceAmidst fighting the man, Jamie falls for dreamy ukulele-playing music teacher, Michael Perry (Oscar Isaac). But the idea of the antithesis-of-suave Kevin James character attempting to romance Salma Hayek’s character is pretty funny.Advantage: Here Comes the Boom
Supporting CastIn her quest to overhaul public education, along with teachers-union leader Evelyn Riske (Holly Hunter), Jamie teams up with Nona Alberts, a like-minded mother and teacher at Malia’s school, played by Academy Award-nominated Viola Davis. In Here Comes The Boom, a depressingly old-looking Henry Winkler plays Marty, who is also affected by the budget cuts. Sorry, Fonz.Advantage: Won’t Back Down
VerdictIn the battle of the economically relevant PG movies, and if we disregard the inclusion of Kelly Clarkson’s girl power anthem, “What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger)” as the trailer music, we’d much prefer to sit through Won’t Back Down than a less imaginative Nacho Libre redux. Won’t Back Down isn’t simply a feel-good drama about inner-city schools—it promotes a pragmatic, albeit oversimplified, outlook on education reform inspired by actual events (parent trigger laws) that has the potential to spark meaningful discourse.Winner: Won’t Back Down
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