Monday, September 6, 2010

Movies Where a Teacher has to Overcome an Unruly Class

You know this plot, you've seen it a hundred times and it's always the same. An unlikely teacher figure is called in to tackle a group of out of control students, and hilarity and drama ensues. I really have to say that I love these kinds of movies and I'll watch them without fail because they are comforting and familiar on some level. You're not going to be blown away by a great movie, but you will be entertained by a predictable and heartwarming film. Let's check out some prime examples of this strange sub-genre.

5. Take the Lead (2006)
In this film Antonio Banderas plays a teacher who wins over the hearts of a group of trouble-making students in detention and inspires them to love
education through the magic of ballroom dance. Based somewhat on real events the teacher takes it upon himself to teach a bunch of punk kids respect with the alluring power of dance. This movie is pretty weak overall and feels like a lite version of others you'll find on the list. There are conflicts (scoffing students, one kid getting involved in a dangerous ordeal, doubtful school directors, etc) but each seem too easily overcome. A highlight of the movie is when Antonio demonstrates the raw sexual energy of a tango to the students and immediately gets them involved. Antonio! Ees too sexy! ... But I must!

4. Renaissance Man (1994)

In this film Danny Devito plays a teacher who wins over the hearts of a group of trouble-making soldiers in training and inspires them to love education through the magic of Hamlet. I'm not gonna lie, I've forgotten much of this film, but all the key points are still intact in my memory: Danny plays a desperate business man that takes a teaching position to help a small group of undisciplined kids through basic training, they learn life lessons by reading and interpreting Shakespeare, and he looks incredibly awkward and out of place in nearly every scene. A highlight is when Devito rappels down a training wall and it looks like a cross between Cliffhanger and Willow.

3. Freedom Writers (2007)

In this film Hilary Swank plays a teacher who wins over the hearts of a group of trouble-making students in public school and inspires them to love education through the magic of writing. When Hilary takes on a teaching position at a new school she finds herself burdened with a classroom of "unteachables" and goes on to face a goddamn tsunami of obstacles. This movie is really really good actually, and the story is packed with staples of the genre: bad students, racism, intolerance, doubtful boss figures, divorce, murder, unorthodox teaching methods, and lots of life lessons. You care about the characters and the payoff is worth the struggle.

2. Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993)

In this film Whoopi Goldberg plays a teacher who wins over the hearts of a group of trouble-making students in public school and inspired them to love education through the magic of song. Out of any in the genre, I've seen this movie the most. We all have movies that we will watch without fail when it comes on TV; this is one of those movies for me. Whoopi reprises her role as "Sister Mary Clarence" and changes the lives of a group of students with her powers of sass and good sense.

While the class she has to contend with are troublemakers, they aren't in danger or as dangerous as other students from similar films, instead they are just a bunch of jerks that ignore the teacher. And thankfully, just like everyone in the world, they are all amazing singers with untapped potential. Sister M.C. (was that intentional?) harnesses that power and turns them into a bitching choir and ends up saving the school. The highlight of the film is the performances and shenanigans that take place at the state championship.

1. Dangerous Minds (1995)

In this film Michelle Pfeiffer plays a teacher who wins over the hearts of a group of trouble making students in public school and inspires them to love education through the magic of Bob Dylan. In a lot of ways this is the quintessential "How-do-I reach-these-kids?" film. It's got all the key conflicts and plot points, and it really handles all of them well. I actually didn't see this film until very recently, but I was impressed by how much I liked it and how it still managed to feel fresh and original even though I've seen it all before.

Michelle plays an ex-marine who takes on a temporary position teaching the worst class in the school and struggles to get them interested in learning; she ends up teaching them karate, appeasing them with candy and prizes, and then finally fools them into ready poetry as she teaches them Bob Dylan lyrics and transitions to Dylan Thomas. I really liked Michelle Pfeiffer in this movie. Throughout the whole film I felt tense and nervous for her, and I felt her frustration and fear as she went from one bad situation to the next.

The film doesn't end on a very uplifting note. There's no big dance-off or singing competition to win at the end. There's no graduation, or great moment of success. There are no conclusions of comeuppances for the people responsible (directly or not) for a student's death. And while the teacher did make a difference in their lives, the future for the students still seems pretty bleak and uncertain. It stands out for me as the best of the bunch among these films and I definitely recommend it.


kingshearte said...

It's funny, because Take the Lead is the sort of movie that I will watch without fail, but for an entirely different reasons. Me, I will watch pretty much any dance movie, no matter how matter how stupid, clich├ęd and unoriginal the plot, and no matter how poorly acted.

And I have to say, that while Sister Act II obviously fits this list better, I find the original to be far superior. II was still fun, though, for sure, and I do agree with you that the musical performances were pretty great.

Shane Patenaude said...

First of all, absolutely Sister Act 1 is the superior film, but for some reason number 2 is on TV more often and I can never resist it.

Also, I have to say I have a guilty pleasure for dance movies as well (I watched Step Up AND Step Up 2 this week...cripes). Most of the time though the entertainment value comes from the horrible story and acting. But I suppose it only makes sense when you build a movie around displaying a particular talent. Just like the fast and the furious series is built around driving and stunt work, so the other elements of the film suffer.

Cole D'Arc said...

ive seen all of these except Take The Lead. can't say i'm sold on this formula.

Not only is Sister Act 2 bad, i'll also never forgive it for introducing me to Lauryn Hill.

Dance movies can be fun for the stuff Shane mentioned - Center Stage is so horrifically awful it's actually entertaining.

All I remember about Dangerous Minds is "Gangster's Paradise".

Shane Patenaude said...

Cole -If my memory serves me, I'm pretty sure I saw renaissance man with you on tv, and I saw freedom writers with you as well. I think we rented it when I was up in Cape Breton.

Sister Act 2 is not bad. It's not great, but it's simple fun. As I was writing that entry I knew that you were going to bring up the whole Lauryn Hill thing, because you're a nitpicker at heart. Though I'm sure you would have encountered Lauryn somewhere else even if you hadn't watched the movie, it's funny that you would considering that movie unforgivable because of it. Additionally, it's not like seeing her play a small part of a film forces you to listen to all of her music afterwards.

Center Stage is pretty awful, I agree. I remember watching Strictly Ballroom around the same time and liking it much more as dance movies go.

Cole D'Arc said...

shane> um, yeah, i know. i said ive seen those movies.

and i might be a nitpicker but it is entirely possible that it was Sister Act 2 that gave Hill her break so that seems a perfectly legitimate reason for labeling it as unforgivable. it's not unreasonable to postulate that if she hadn't landed that "small role" then perhaps some lunatic never would have given her a record contract. and maybe you think it's "not bad" but i'm entitled to believe that it is bad.

Shane Patenaude said...

Dude, all I'm saying is that you hate fun and loathe entertainment. That's all I'm saying. lol.

I mentioned those two movies because I wasn't positive if that's how I saw them. I thought you would confirm.

Anyway, quit hating on happiness. (*moonwalks out the room*).

Shane Patenaude said...

I forgot to mention it in the post, but for anyone who hasn't seen them, two great parody examples of the "teacher vs. disobedient public school kids" plot would be the movie "High School High" with Jon Lovitz and South Park Episode 5 of Season 12 where Eric teaches a class of inner-city students the value of cheating. I nearly died laughing.

Cole D'Arc said...

while your Renaissance Man memory is sound, I'm fairly certain I didn't see Freedom Writers with you. the timing is all wrong for that to have happened.

and it's you i loathe, Shane. it was always you.