Monday, October 11, 2010

Waiting for "Superman"

These kids are Waiting for "Superman"

Too. Much. Information. That's how this new, highly buzzed about documentary plays out. Much like director Davis Guggenheim's last film, An Inconvenient Truth, topical problems are discussed in a fresh, stylized way. But there is too much going on. Several times while watching Al Gore's presentation, I kept thinking, "Jesus, I didn't know I had to take notes." Waiting for "Superman" is just like that. Informative, yes. But to a fault.

America's public education system is flawed nearly to the point of no return. Dropout rates are higher than ever. Our worldwide rank in math and science scores keeps dropping at an alarmingly (embarrassingly) hasty rate. Teachers are criticized worse than ever on their merit. And on and on.

Thanks much in part to this film, all of these issues are currently in the forefront of national attention.

So what can be done about it?

After watching Waiting for "Superman", I have no idea. You know why? Because this is a movie that talks, and presents, a great game, but offers little to no insight on how to fix such a damaged system.

To be fair, that isn't entirely true. Problems are offered seemingly feasible resolutions from important-looking people that, because their dressed in a power suit, we should be listening to. But the solutions, much like the problems, aren't discussed in depth. At all.

For five minutes, Guggenheim's film focuses on the ease of reaching tenure as a public school teacher, and how hard it is to fire lousy educators. Then... the film moves on. Google says they can't find enough qualified Americans to hire, so they look elsewhere. Then... the film moves on. The education and teacher's unions are stunting the need for change. Then... the film moves on.

You get it.

If you've seen the film's trailer, you think you're in for a documentary that focuses on a few inner-city kids who are being damaged by the underwhelming abilities of the public school system. They each enter lotteries in hopes of being accepted to charter or private schools.

This is in the film, but only for the final 20 minutes. And once Guggenheim settles down from all the facts and bar graphs and pie charts and lame cartoon graphics, he touches on some seriously compelling stuff. What these kids are going through, and the fact that their fate is decided by the drop of a lottery ball, or the random scroll of a computer, is easily the highlight of the film.

During the film's final moments, I kept thinking about Hoop Dreams, the fantastic 1994 documentary that chronicles the struggles of two inner city youths, who have both been prematurely deemed as the next Michael Jordan. That film, which Roger Ebert called the best of the '90s, says nothing about the hardships of daily life in the inner city, but at the same time, it says everything about the hardships of daily life in the inner city.

Waiting for "Superman" touches on that point, but by then, it's far too late. Don't get me wrong, this film presents several valid, note worthy points; all of which need to be scrutinized and investigated. But it presents far too many of them. A five-part miniseries on HBO (or PBS, for that matter) would've suited Guggenheim's material far better.

I care about the kids. How they feel, how they act. I could care less what Bill Gates thinks about America's lack of education. Why? Because all of the money he has donated towards the cause has had little to no impact.

Had Waiting of "Superman" picked one, or two, or even three, issues to discuss (and offer sound resolutions for), it could've been great. But, sadly, the final imagine of this movie, arguably the most moving scene of any film so far this year, is wasted among the statistics. B-

1 comment:

  1. I expected a C- from your negative review. I agree with you on all accounts. I had a hard time following the movie because it didn't focus on specific problems. I would like liked to know what people with out oodles of cash can do. It would have been presented better on HBO or PBS, but it wouldn't have gotten the publicity (education week on nbc, times article) like the movie. At least they got the word out how decrepit our education system is. A lot of people in middle/ upper class people aren't aware of the array of problems. Despite the movie's shortcomings, I recommend it.