Won't Back Down Movie Poster Image

Won't Back Down

Inspiring tale of a mom's quest to better her kid's school.
  • Rated: PG
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2012
  • Running Time: 121 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Plenty of positive messages in this feel-good drama, particularly that all it takes is one or two people to galvanize a community and enact change. Jamie and Nona have nothing in common when the movie starts, but against all odds they join together to help create a better school, even though that means exposing themselves to gossip and ridicule. Pro-union families should know that the depiction of the teachers' union is negative, even though a teacher explains all the good the union does as well.

Positive role models

Jamie will stop at nothing to help secure a better education for her daughter. Even though she isn't that educated herself, she has a fiery spirit and refuses to back down even in the face of overwhelming bureaucracy. Nona joins Jamie's mission and in the process becomes a better teacher.


Not necessarily violent, but very upsetting: A teacher purposely keeps a student from going to the bathroom, so she has an accident in front of the class.


Jamie dresses suggestively (tight jeans, midriff-baring tops) and basically seduces a teacher who becomes her boyfriend. There's kissing, and it's clear he spends the night at her house, but there aren't any love scenes.


Insulting language such as "stupid," "idiot," "retard," "slow," "sucks," "dumb," "uneducated." One or two uses of "ass" and "Jesus" (as an exclamation).


Malia has a Le Sportsac backpack that her mother says cost a fortune, and Jamie buys Dunkin Donuts coffee.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Adults drink several times at a bar. A mother relates a harrowing tale about what happened when she drove under the influence when her child was a baby.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Won't Back Down, which is based on actual events, follows a mother's journey to turn her daughter's failing elementary school around. There's some insulting language ("idiot," "retard," as well as "ass") and bullying -- a teacher does nothing as a student rips another student's backpack, and the same teacher purposely keeps a kid from leaving class to use the bathroom. Jamie, the protagonist mom, wears tight clothes and flirts with pretty much everyone -- culminating in a romantic relationship with a teacher at her child's school. Adults drink at a bar and restaurant, but there's no drunkenness. Parents and kids will be reminded of the difference that just one or two people can make in a community.

Kids say

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What's the story?

Jamie (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a single mother raising a second-grader in Pittsburgh's down-and-out Hill District, can't afford private school tuition (even with a scholarship), so she must enroll her dyslexic daughter, Malia (Emily Alyn Lind), at her local public school. After Jamie quickly realizes that Malia's teacher is awful -- and the entire school has a failing grade from the county -- she convinces another second-grade-teacher, Nona (Viola Davis), to help her take back the school as a charter program. Unfortunately for Jamie and Nona, they end up having to fight not only the school system's bureaucracy, but also the teachers' union, which opposes the new school.

Is it any good?


If WON'T BACK DOWN were an inspiring made-for-TV movie, it would no doubt earn Gyllenhaal and Davis Emmy Award nominations. It's exactly the sort of "inspired by true events" drama that would be a great fit for basic cable. But on the big screen, the poignant premise (uneducated single mom will stop at nothing to secure her little girl a decent education) succumbs to a formula that feels a bit flat.

Of course it's a compelling story, because what parent doesn't want to think they have the courage of conviction to stand up to endless amounts of red tape? But this isn't really a tale about an amazing teacher like Stand and Deliver or Dead Poets Society; this is a David vs. Goliath story -- with a single mom and a teacher hurling their proverbial rocks at both a behemoth school board and a stuck-in-its-ways union. The performances get an "A" (Gyllenhaal and Davis are class acts), but the polemical story isn't novel enough to merit an extra star.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about whether movies based on true stories should follow them closely, or if it's OK for the films to change some facts in the interest of the storyline. Does this movie make you want to learn more about what really happened?

  • Some critics have said Won't Back Down is too one-sided when it comes to the teachers' union. Do you think the movie is meant as a political commentary or just a story about a parent and teacher's triumph?

  • Although this is a movie about education, the emphasis is less on teacher-student relationships and more on parent-teacher relationships. How is Jamie an unlikely crusader for education? Do you think the fact she's not so educated herself makes her mission even more sympathetic?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:September 28, 2012
DVD/Streaming release date:January 15, 2013
Cast:Holly Hunter, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis
Director:Daniel Barnz
Studio:Walden Media
Topics:Great girl role models, Misfits and underdogs
Run time:121 minutes
MPAA rating:PG
MPAA explanation:thematic elements and language

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Parent Written byEilyM September 28, 2012

Propaganda film

This film is produced by a right-wing guy with an anti-union agenda. It is a right-wing propaganda film.
What other families should know
Too much consumerism
Parent of a 12 and 12 year old Written bycdurkinrobinson October 7, 2012

Won't Back Down is a great movie for families

As an advocate for kids with StudentsFirst, I was able to see this movie at a few screenings ahead of release. This movie is a heartwarming, uplifting story about what happens when parents and teachers come together for students. It took a complex subject and made it relevant for so many families in a way that documentaries can't always accomplish. A new "Norma Rae" story for our time - two moms, one a teacher, who rise up against the status quo to improve a school and give their kids a better future. Highly recommend!
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models