'Freedom Writers'

Neither Half Nelsonnor all bad, this white- teacher-uplifts-poor-kids- of-color drama aims to favor the students' stories, which are based on those of real-life Cali high schoolers who wrote their way out of oppression and anonymity in the mid '90s. But those diary entries too often take a backseat to the film's "Ms. G.," played by two-time Oscar winner and Chad Lowe survivor Hilary Swank, who makes instantly credible her character's preference of work over marriage to a boring man-behind-the-woman (Patrick Dempsey). Our eager-beaver heroine suffers the kids' sarcasm, fails to earn their respect by bringing in a Tupac tape, then wins them over in a crucial scene that, fact-based or not, rings as false as anything in Dangerous Minds. Reaction shots of the class's befuddled white boy are played for cheap laughs, but writer-director Richard LaGravenese otherwise keeps it real by recruiting cinematographer Jim Denault from Indieville High and Imelda Staunton—here playing Bitchy Old Department Head.

 
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