Runtime: 102 minutes
Scene Says: Inspiring look at the decidedly uninspiring U.S. education system by the director of ‘An Inconvenient Truth’
It doesn’t take much for a film to incite controversy. However, it does take a lot for a film to inspire hope. “Waiting for ‘Superman’’” achieves both these things, but heated discussions and debates have overshadowed how good the film actually is.
A film that delicately balances human emotion with the cold politics of the education system, “Waiting for ‘Superman’” is an inspiring documentary film by director Davis Guggenheim, who previously directed “It Might Get Loud” and the award-winning “An Inconvenient Truth.” Both films add major weight to Guggenheim’s resume, but “Waiting for ‘Superman’” might be his greatest achievement to date.
The documentary focuses on the stories of five children in various parts of the country as they and their parents struggle for a quality education. Much of the film focuses on charter schools as one of the few beacons of hope, despite their lottery systems, which leave many a child’s fate to luck.
“The lottery is a metaphor for a good education,” Guggenheim said in an interview with The Eagle. “People in college are the one’s who won the lottery. Millions of people don’t have access to a great education.”
Shocking statistics are presented through cutesy animated sequences to help audiences better understand the numbers involved. However, these quirky cartoons don’t help soften the blow that American kids rank 25th in math and 21st in science among 30 developed countries.
“Waiting for ‘Superman’” also focuses on other issues such as so-called “drop-out factories” in which few students are expected to graduate, dated practices such as tracking and tenure and the failure of teachers’ unions in protecting bad teachers.
Despite the bleak prospects, Guggenheim does spotlight several “superheroes,” such as the ‘tough-love’ D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee and education reformer Geoffrey Canada, who serves as the main narrator and a significant presence throughout the film.
“My real passion is that there’s such inspiration in peoples’ stories. People are really moved and transformed when you hear someone else’s story,” Guggenheim said.
“Waiting for ‘Superman’” is not so much a political film as a heart-wrenching narrative of how children’s education all over the country is subject to fate. The film may present many problems with few solutions, but the narrative is so coherent and appealing that the audience itself becomes part of the solution.
“Movies can’t motivate policy — inspiring people that it is possible makes it easier for regular people to learn what they can do,” Guggenheim said.
And “Waiting for ‘Superman’” is exactly that — an inspiring movie that is a call to arms for ordinary people to get involved and fix the public education system. Sitting in a movie theatre makes it easy to forget the reality of the situation, but it takes a documentary like “Waiting for ‘Superman’” to remind people that these aren’t just stories, they’re real life.