Lean on Me (USA, 1989)

bf764716fe1a58cb07f8a377ec25c16d_500x735Directed by: John G. Avildsen. I’m not sure how much I even want to talk about this one. I came across this one by chance, and I watched it for reasons unknown even to me. Because I like Morgan Freeman? Because I like watching movies that I suspect to be really awful? Because I was holding out the hope that maybe it wouldn’t be awful? Either way, it’s done, I saw the movie. Now what? Morgan Freeman was pretty great in the role, but that honestly doesn’t say much. As for the actual movie itself….I’m just shaking my head. It’s not that I’m surprised that a movie this naive and emotionally stunted can be made and embraced and be generally well regarded by the average viewer, but I’m always disappointed. I guess this movie isn’t the worst as far as that goes—it’s just kind of emotionally and mentally numbing to think about this movie. The whole time I was watching it, I kept getting flashbacks to Steve Coogan’s ridiculous Hamlet 2 which, after seeing this movie, doesn’t seem so ridiculous. This movie is an insulting, exaggerated parody of “inspirational teacher movies” that thinks it’s a serious, sincere story about a teacher who’s truly inspirational. The crazy principal who’s a loose cannon renegade maverick is waaaaay too far over the top for me to take him seriously. This entire setup is way too reminiscent of the mid-70’s gun-toting vigilante who cuts through modern corruption, over the heads of “soft” liberal society, and restores American greatness with no-nonsense, politically incorrect will-to-power. Beyond the sheer fascination with watching this ideological slurry poured down our throats not via trigger-happy racist white guys like in Death Wish and Dirty Harry but via a black, civil-rights-advocating high school teacher, this movie is just too bizarre and unsettling to swallow willingly. Every obvious thing you think they’re going to throw at you in this movie they throw at you, and the only surprises are the moments when you’re too incredulous to believe that they would get the protagonist to be quite that insane and still try to be the “good guy.” First he cleaned up the school by telling the janitor to make sure everything gets clean (no need to hire extra cleaning staff, finding room in the budget, etc, just the moral strength to yell at the janitor); next, he orders a list of names of “bad kids” and has them all expelled (he’s a renegade, but goddamit, he gets the job done!); and then, when the “bad kids” pick a fight with one of the “good kids” because they can still physically enter the school after they’ve been expelled, the renegade principal has the genius idea of locking all of the exits shut with chains and padlocks. And I, like most rational adults watching, immediately thought: “Isn’t that a glaring fire hazard to lock all of these kids inside a building with padlocks? What a stupid plot flub. Well, I guess every film has its little stupid things that it glosses over quickly so you don’t see how stupid it is.” Except that, in this movie, they don’t gloss over it, they make it a central plot point—the main weapon with which all the “bad guys”, the uptight parents and school board, try to use to get the renegade fired. This is what I mean by emotionally numbing—I just couldn’t side with the principal or with any of the people you’re supposed to side with. All of the opponents of this principal seem totally rational and justified to me. This review is actually really hard to write. Remembering how indignant that movie makes me feel is exhausting. I need some Hamlet 2 stat!

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2 responses to “Lean on Me (USA, 1989)

  1. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2013 | Offhand Reviews·

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