A touching performance from Hilary Swank ensures that Freedom Writers is not just another tripe genre movie about a teacher coming into class room to save savages à la Dangerous Minds, Stand and Deliver and Lean on Me. Set in the aftermath of the 1992 LA riots, a class of High School students are inspired by a naïve teacher, Erin Gruwell (Swank), to better themselves through education. Gruwell manages to turn these perceived ignoramuses into honours students by persuading them that their lives in gangland LA are similar to the plight faced by a certain Anne Frank. An allegory made complete when she convinces them to write their own diaries, which were subsequently published in a 1999 book The Freedom Writers that served as a source for this movie.
Away from some of the saccharine classroom bonding moments, Gruwell has to overcome the incandescent Imelda Staunton, playing a stuffy administrator and increasingly frustrated husband (Patrick Dempsey). As in Terence Rattigan’s play The Browning Version the students also help the teacher deal with her own peculiar foibles, and it’s to writer/director Richard LaGravenese credit that Freedom Writers is most reminiscent of Robert Mulligan’s unsurpassed 1967 teacher in the ghetto movie Up the Down Staircase.