Waiting For Superman (PG)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner26/11/2010

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 102 mins

Well made, well intentioned documentary that takes a disturbing yet necessary look at America's public school system, though the conclusions reached are pretty depressing and the film resorts to some shameless emotional manipulation in the final scenes.

What's it all about?
Directed by Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth), Waiting for Superman examines America's failing public school system. There are animated segments with chilling statistics (such as the fact that by 2020, only 50 million Americans will be qualified to fill 123 million highly skilled jobs) and talking head interviews with key figures in American education, such as Michelle Rhee (Washington DC's chancellor of schools since 2007) and charismatic educational reformer Geoffrey Canada.

The film also focuses on five children from different urban areas in the country, each of whom are pinning their hopes on a state lottery that will allow them to go to a charter school (schools that receive public money but can set their own standards and are often staffed by more committed teachers).

The Good
In many ways, Waiting for Superman (the title comes from Canada realising there's no-one with special powers coming to save them) plays like a real-life inspirational teacher movie, except that the focus is not on teachers but committed, passionate educational campaigners like Rhee and Canada. However, for every ray of hope (such as the success stories of various charter schools), the moment you look at the bigger reality of what needs to be done, all the optimism comes crashing to the ground.

Guggenheim (who also narrates the film) uncovers some fascinating statistics (such as the fact that keeping a man in jail costs a lot more than giving him a good college-level education) but also freely admits (in the opening scene) that he sends his own kids to private school, despite having made a documentary about teachers in state schools. In addition, the film identifies several problems but fails to provide any satisfactory solutions.

The Bad
The film is shamelessly manipulative towards the end, tugging the heart strings by showing us each of the five children sitting through the state lottery that will decide their fates; this section is dragged out far too long, given that it makes its point almost immediately.

Worth seeing?
Waiting for Superman is an engaging, well made documentary that asks some tough questions, though it does rather feel as if the case studies are grafted on for emotional manipulation purposes. It's also a shame there was no room for the title track by The Flaming Lips.

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Content updated: 21/08/2018 11:23

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