While a title card says "Won't Back Down" is based on real events, you'd be hard pressed to find people who match the characters in the parent-revolt film.
It's far too "them vs. us" for anyone to sign off on.
Instead of working through the system and finding a solution to her daughter's learning problems, a single mother (Maggie Gyllenhaal) decides to take advantage of a supposed law that lets parents oust all the teachers in a school and start fresh.
To make it work, she has to get the support of a majority of teachers willing to leave their union and work at the will of the parents.
Meanwhile, the teachers' union stews in the background, sending out damning press releases and rallying to undercut everything the rebels espouse.
If this really happened, it would have been big news, not just a nagging feeling that someone is trying to bust unions.
Writer/director Daniel Barnz paints his characters in sharp contrast, too, giving no one the option of backing out. He also uses elementary plotting techniques to keep interest alive. Never mind we crave details.
Even something as simple as a neighborhood rally raises our antennae. If this is such a grass roots effort, who is paying for the T-shirts that Gyllenhaal passes out?
Then, too, why is the school board such a formidable force? Why can't parents just go to a meeting, talk about their problems and seek a solution? Here, they are even reluctant to vote in public.
"Won't Back Down" also suggests a few bad apples can stonewall a whole bushel of good ones. Why the mother's concerns weren't dealt with at the school level is one of the biggest questions of all. A principal won't deal with the problem? Really?
While Barnz wanted "Norma Rae" feelings to come from his anti-union film, he went about it the wrong way. Even Viola Davis -- as a teacher who joins Gyllenhaal in her quest -- isn't given scenes that would make her character as rich as the one she played in "The Help." Toss in a couple of bad teachers and a union exec (Holly Hunter, no less) and you can see this wasn't another "Lean on Me" or "Mr. Holland's Opus" or any other "cheer-the-learning-process" film but a crass way of saying a broke system shouldn't be fixed but turned over to people who have never managed it before.
Gyllenhaal is certainly rousing as the parents' organizer and Emily Alyn Lind is definitely worth the effort as her daughter. But the cause is like a political ad -- full of catchphrases and fire but lacking any real substance.
Davis is fine -- as she always is. Hunter is overly subdued. And Rosie Perez is just right as a teacher who questions the movement, then gets on board.
A good cast? Yes. A good effort? No.
As any teacher would write on a bad term paper, "Won't Back Down" lacks supporting evidence. It offers easy solutions to difficult problems.