Lean On Me
Directed by John G. Avildsen
Written by Michael Schiffer
Starring Morgan Freeman, Beverly Todd, Robert Guillaume
I must admit, I was a little hesitant to watch this movie. There are plenty of movies about inner-city students that have the one teacher/figure that turns them around and has them reciting Shakespeare in no time. But I figured that since this movie was made before a lot of them, maybe it was one of the first ones, therefore not being too formulaic or cheesy. Well, it wasn’t formulaic, I can say that much. A lot of movies haven’t been made like this one. And that’s a good thing.
‘Lean On Me’ is the story of Joe Clark (Morgan Freeman), a public educator that is roped into becoming the principal at Eastside High School. The school needs 75% of the students to pass the basic skills exam. As you can imagine, he achieves his goal and everybody is happy. Sorry if I spoiled the ending for you. This is based on a true story, whatever that meaning has these days in film. Well, despite a decent performance from Morgan Freeman and decent directing from Avildsen, this movie was confusing.
Joe Clark lays down the law. He yells, screams, expels students, and fires teachers, all at the drop of a hat. He is an obsessive, angry man that gives no explanation of why he is the way he is. He is over the top and unjustified in a lot of his decisions. He calls up 300 kids from the school during an assembly and expels them because they are criminals. He suspends a teacher for picking up trash when he Clark said not to move. Clark handles everybody any way that he pleases.
Another gross exaggeration is the condition that the school is in. Teachers get hospitalized, and everybody is either dealing drugs or getting pregnant. I felt like it was documentary footage from a political riot or something. It was overboard. Absolute chaos has taken over the school. And nobody at the school can do anything about it.
Clark is a bizarre mismatch and I don’t think he was accurately portrayed. I think Freeman did a good job. I mean, he probably just did what Avildsen said to do. Clark is absurd and over the top in the way that he treats his fellow staff, and students for that matter. I felt like by the end of the movie, Clark would change his ways, and he would be the one that changed. Isn’t that how most of this movies end? The teacher is tough. Well, I hate to break it to you, but he doesn’t change. His dictatorship prevails. He sticks to his guns, continues to be a lunatic, and wins in the end.
I think that there simply weren’t enough details in this movie. We jump from scene to scene of Clark disciplining somebody, touching on the lives of some of the minor players. We are not shown or told how the students change or just exactly what changes takes place within them. For the majority of the movie, lots of people yell at each other. And that’s it.
I am sure the real Joe Clark is a remarkable man. I am sure he is admirable and has changed countless lives. And I am sure that I would be better off reading a book on the subject. Just too many musical montages and not enough detail. No real character development took place. I think with some script and story revision, it could have been a great movie, in the same vein as ‘Stand By Me’ or ‘The Substitute.’ Instead, it just leaves us bewildered and confused at what we just witnessed. It’s sad. I could see a really good movie deep below everything, wanting to break out. –E. Morris
Click Here to see the trailer for ‘Lean On Me’