The Ron Clark Story (TV 2006)

Marissa: What, you felt helpless? They feel like that everyday.
By Randa Haines
With Matthew Perry, Judith Buchan, Griffin Cork 

Okay, I'll admit it. I watched this film because Matthew Perry stars in it and I had to see him play a semi serious role! After seeing Freedom Writers I wondered what other teacher-student movies there were out there, or more precisely, good-Samaritan-teacher-who-saves-students-from-failing-minority-group-schools movies were out there. This seemed like a fun choice -- young, bright teacher with a heart of gold moves from the quiet and ultra suburban North Carolina to the Bronx, New York and helps pull up the test scores of a class six previous teachers got tired of and fled from.

The film itself was lackluster, albeit still quite an engaging watch. Not sure why that was -- perhaps Matthew Perry's acting which inadvertently satirized the whole "inspiring teacher" routine. Like Freedom Writers, this film was also based on a real educator, Ron Clark, who wrote a handbook of 55 rules for successful teaching. When Perry enacts these rules in the film, it lacks utter credibility. I laughed out loud when he made a fuss about having the kids address him as Sir, and his "President's Rap" (which you can see in the screen shot here and was used to help the kids learn History) was so cringe-worthy that I had to laugh to put him off the hook. It's extremely difficult to take him seriously, or even the characters seriously (the slutty preteens, the boys who are already "moving" items and making bets -- one which included by when Matthew Perry would resign-- the quintessentially nerdy Indian kid who was actually quite adorable and added a level of complexity to the film as she was trying desperately to fit in and instead of making his life easier and cooperating would also rebel just to be accepted by the cool kids and so on).

Not to make this a compare and contrast to Freedom Writers, but this film too has a figure coming from a more affluent and posh social status to the "ghettos" -- the teacher here with his full on tie and khakis outfit is well juxtaposed with his crummy apartment in New York and his working two jobs (at a diner where he also happens to meet his love interest). He also takes them to trips (a Broadway show) -- and most important has faith in their success even if no one else does.

Was the film cliche? Yes. But I don't regret watching it, even if only to see Mathew Perry dance to the "President's Rap".

I liked: Matthew Perry, the innuendos, the steamy love interest Marissa, and the way all the cool kids called him "fool". I also enjoyed the attempt to approach problems in lower income communities -- neglected children for whom time to do homework is a luxury teachers don't seem to understand, abused children, children who are drawn into petty crime which could be prevented with a little guidance. The role of trust and faith -- how setting the bar high and having high expectations of someone can motivate someone to be their best self.

I disliked: It seemed like a farce at times. Issues weren't dealt with in depth. Could be an easily forgettable film.

A feel-good film that isn't a must-see by any means but for fans of Matthew Perry or those interested in teacher-student films, watching this wouldn't be the worst way to spend your time. 


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