The US education system comes under fire in this earnest and manipulative drama that pits the ordinary guy – or rather gals – against the bosses, in this case the unions. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays hard-pressed single mum Jamie, who wants to spring her dyslexic daughter from the classroom of an incompetent time-server.
Having failed to clinch her a place at the local charter school – a heartbreaking public lottery – Jamie then asks decent, hard-working teacher Nona (Viola Davis) to help transform their failing inner-city school. A long slog of doorstepping, leafleting and rallying lies ahead, in the course of which you may want to fling a piece of chalk or two at the screen.
Everything about it feels formulaic and perfunctory, including our crusaders' personal lives – Jamie falls for a guitar-playing hunk (Oscar Isaac), Nona falls out with her husband (Lance Reddick) – while a piety-throwing contest flares up between the union firebrands and the parents who want to save their kids from a broken system.
Davis is tremendous as the teacher at the end of her tether, but she's wasted good acting on this.