Rated: R for obscenities and violence. Reviewed by: Chris Release date: August 11,1995 Released by: Hollywood Pictures
Since our high schools are often criticized for being a breeding ground for gang violence and illiteracy, I was prepared to see the worst in this true story of a first-time teacher in a California inner city high school.
Although the teens have all the classic symptoms of growing up in broken homes from poor surroundings, there is an underlying ray of hope for these kids.
Michelle Pfeiffer plays teacher LouAnne Johnson at her first teaching job. She's an ex-Marine, but ill-prepared for the chaos and disrespect she encounters from her classroom of surly teens. She's mocked and ridiculed until she finally decides to chuck the school curriculum for her own unique brand of teaching.
Johnson uses karate demonstrations to get the kids' attention and keeps it by teaching Bob Dylan's lyrics as a backdoor introduction to Dylan Thomas. She also uses provocative sentences to conjugate verbs. Even though the school administrators are against her practices, it's these same unconventional theories that eventually gain her class' trust.
The class comprises kids who think of themselves as victims and have no idea how to turn their lives around. The kids whom LouAnne gets close to are the ones who need her attention the most: A pregnant girl who's bright but accepts being transferred to an alternative school because of her condition; twin brothers whose mother expects them to quit school and get jobs; a sensitive Mexican boy and a tough teen with a chip on his shoulder.
Pfeiffer sometimes appears too naive, but does a nice job showing caring emotions.
When the film ends, there's promise and hope for some of these teens. One of the things Johnson does on the first day of class is give each student an "A," and it was up to them to work to keep it until the end of the school term. It's most likely the "A" these kids ever received, and it's really a novel way to show someone that you expect something great from them. She put a worth on their learning capacity, and this film showed that determination and a little faith obviously works.