If This Were "Just Entertainment" ...
Giordano Bruno | Wherever I am, I am. | 09/27/2010
(1 out of 5 stars)
"... I'd readily give it three stars, maybe four! Hey, Morgan Freeman is a powerful, plausible actor. He makes his character, Principal Joe Clark, real.
But 'Lean On Me' isn't just entertainment. It's a "message" film, and that changes matters. One has to consider whether the film is honest (it isn't) and whether the 'message' is acceptable. A previous reviewer - Drumtalk- has already listed some of the implausibilities of the film. One he missed: the incredible renovation of Eastside High, from its graffiti-loaded and dilapidated condition in the first minutes of the film to its nearly pristine splendor in less than a semester. Not plausible! That was a million dollar renovation, done by the pre-existing custodial staff? Get real! Then there's the matter of the sudden appearance of 'security', a staff of at least half a dozen. Budget? Shall we suppose Principal Clark paid them from his own pocket?
But a far more significant dishonesty is obvious if one checks the facts. The standard test scores at Eastside High did NOT significantly improve over even a couple of years; the real school remained among the lowest ranked in New Jersey, and it WAS taken over by the state just one year after Joe Clark resigned, in 1991. The film was released in 1989; Clark resigned one year later, to become a consultant/speaker. And there's an inconsistency in the fundamental logic of Clark's "inspirational" bullying of his teachers; if, as he shouted in their faces, they were not 'teaching' the teenage children much of anything, how could it have been plausible for them suddenly to do very very significantly better - 33% to 75% plus - in a mere three months? Did the teachers somehow discover a method of imparting knowledge intravenously?
And then, what about the message? The film depicts the determined efforts of a disciplinarian principal to reform a school plagued by violence, drug abuse, racial strife, and apathy - in a community plagued by all the same woes - with the politically imperative single goal of raising standard test scores to preclude a takeover by the state board of education. To achieve his goal, Joe Clark immediately expels 300 of the worst offenders; he will eventually need to resort to his own fists and the use of chained doors to keep the offenders OUT. He also berates and bullies his teaching staff, autocratically fires several of them, and then demands that they undertake overtime and weekend assignments; in other words, the film effectively presents those teachers as part of the problem, utterly second-rate and indifferent time-servers, yet Clark's belittling and bullying somehow persuades all of them to .... to what? Only one brief classroom-teaching scene is shown, and that one is pure blackboard-equations fantasy. So the message is, bash teachers until they do overnight what they should have been able to do last semester?
And the expulsions? The rationale here becomes explicit in the script: get rid of the 'bad apples' and all will be okay. Oh, and without the lowest achievers, test scores will very likely improve, eh? The message couldn't be clearer: bad apples fail because they are bad apples. All failure, in fact, can be ascribed to the individual, to the lack of individual responsibility. And, one notes, individual responsibility needs to be enforced by discipline. Joe Clark and his ilk are needed to beat some responsibility into us. Anybody notice the ambivalence here? We need a tyrant to make us look out for our own autonomy?
Once or twice, Principal Clark is compelled to make reference to the 'community', both local and global. He demands that his teachers and staff turn to the local community for the support of parents, yet the only image we get of that community is of graffiti-loaded dilapidated dangerous public housing. The school is obviously a microcosm of the community, so must there not be a reform of the larger entity to achieve any reform of the smaller? And what factors are there to explain the hopelessness of the community? Economic factors, perhaps? None mentioned in the film. Endemic racism, perhaps? Yes, that's mentioned, in the subtext of Principal Clarks' climactic address to his students; "they" regard "you" as inferior and it's incumbent on "you" to prove them wrong by passing "their" test on "their" terms, as "we" always knew you could. Oh yeah, and by proving your Pride! By ... are you ready ... learning the School Song! You read that correctly: one of Principal Clark's prime strategies is to require every student to learn the School Song, and to sing it on demand anywhere anytime, or be expelled! [Any resemblance between the Eastside High School Song and the Horst Wessels song or the Internationale may be coincidental ... but not unmeaningful.]
So, children, do you have the Message intact? "We need a strong leader to make us free." Chain the borders! Keep those bad apples out! "Lean on Me"! Isn't that the same as "Depend on Me"? or "Submit to Me"? How much more perverted can the idea of Individualism become than this? But I'll wager this film is an all-time favorite of your local Tea Party candidate, committed to reforming a failing society by demolishing social institutions."
Great Feel Good movie about Taking Back your High School!
Nice Lady | Alaska | 05/08/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Perhaps one of Morgan Freeman's earliest.He is a School Principal trying to take the school back from the Dopers & Pushers & Troublemakers so that the average kid can have a chance. Perhaps Joe Clark's methods are a little unorthodox (but desperate times call for desperate measures)
He spoke louder and faster in this film, but the essence is there.
Interesting to see how Morgan Freeman has evolved into one of the all time greats!
This a true story of a Patterson NJ High School. Glad I saw it. Worth seeing-good characterizations, enjoyable."
Lean on Me
Arnita D. Brown | USA | 01/05/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The story of controversial New Jersey high school principal Joe Clark. Morgan Freeman is truly on top of his game in this late-80's inspirational school-based movie. Freeman is so powerful in this movie."Lean On Me" will definitely have you grinning broadly by the time the credits roll.