dangerous minds.

Dangerous Minds is a 1995 movie based on a true story (My Posse Don’t Do Homework, written by Louanne Johnson), and starring Michelle Pfeiffer.

In the movies, like in real life, it isn’t enough just to have a heart in the right place. Good intentions are nice, but they need to be backed up by an intelligent script telling an involving story. In the case of Dangerous Minds, we get an idealized version of inner city life, where, though problems may require more than the wave of a magic wand to remove, the solutions still seem too facile.

Dangerous Minds is based on a true story, but never has the Hollywood sheen been more apparent. With master crowd-pleasers Don Smith and Jerry Bruckheimer behind the production, there is never any question that this movie will pander to the least common denominator. Drama is pretty much by-the-numbers, tragedy is shallow, and the resolution is expectedly upbeat. Emotion and character interaction rarely ring true.

Ex-Marine Louanne Johnson (Michelle Pfeiffer) comes to a Palo Alto high school in search of a job as a student teacher. What she gets instead is a full-time position teaching English to a group of bright but “socially challenged” students that she quickly dubs as the “rejects from hell.” When her first-day wardrobe choice and meek attitude earn her the nickname of “White Bread”, she tries a radical approach: wear a leather jacket, curse as proficiently as the kids, and teach karate as a lead-in to English Lit. It works, and the students start to come around. Despite protestations from an uptight, by-the-book principal (Courtney B. Vance), lives are changed as a result of Louanne’s unorthodox approach of using Bob Dylan lyrics to teach poetry and rewarding completed assignments with trips to amusement parks and dinners at fancy restaurants. This is how James Berardinelli reviewed the movie back in 1995.

But how much of Dangerous Minds ended up on the cutting room floor? A good question, and the answer may explain why this film is so erratic. Relationships that should have been better developed are left in an embryonic stage. The most notable is between Louanne and an especially difficult pupil, Emilio (Wade Dominguez). There’s obviously something missing in the way these two learn to relate to each other. The result of this incomplete, hit-and-miss approach diminishes the impact of the film’s central tragedy. Note: I saw this movie when I was 14 or 15 and I remember I used to be fatally in love with Emilio and his hyper-rebel attitude. : ))

Dangerous Minds has a heart, but no soul: it’s difficult not to see this movie as trivializing serious issues. The seams in the script show a little too clearly, and the heavy-handed attempts at audience manipulation stand out. Michelle Pfeiffer gives a solid performance, as do a number of the young actors playing Louanne’s students, but Dangerous Minds demands substance rather than the filler that the film makers thought would make an acceptable substitute. Anyway, it’s worth a watch, inspite of Smith and Bruckheimer’s appetite for crowd-pleasing.

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10 thoughts on “dangerous minds.

  1. I have a confession: I have never seen this movie. Hence why I have not commented nor “liked” this post. But it is a good post… for I feel as though it has saved me from EVER watching this film, mistakenly or otherwise.

    • non-related: forget “the trilogy of new york” and “pobby and dingan”. 😀
      replace them with “the legion of the damned” (sven hassel) and “aunt julia and the scriptwriter” (vargas llosa).
      the first is very well-written, maybe the best war story i’ve ever read. of course, if you like war stories…
      and the second is… well, let’s just say that this incredible boring title doesn’t do it any justice. a simple story and a damn brilliant approach.
      aaa… and i also liked suskind’s “perfume”. a hell of a talented writer and a weird story. think i’ve read it four years ago. okay, i’m done. : ))

    • …your gravatar… is that one of my little monsters? (okay, this is so WRONG, i sound like GaGa) : ))
      i mean, they’re not actually mine, i’ve just adopted them 😛 a while ago, after seeing Monsters INC. 😀

      • Haha. Yes. I’ve always thought of myself a burt reynolds type. I was wondering how long it would take you to notice… a little bit longer than I thought! 😛

      • okay, okay, 1-0. 😀
        i thought i’m the only person in the whole world who loves gubler’s little monsters. :)))

      • G-Land looks like fun. 🙂

      • it used to be a very funny country. yup. 🙂

  2. btw, I saw Black Swan tonight. Is it playing in RO yet? I think… at least I think I think… that you will like it. As for myself, I think I still like The Fountain more… but that might be a genre thing (sci-fi vs ballet.) I probably need to watch the film again to really get a feel for it.

    Anyway.. now I am off to bed. I think it’s even earlier here than when you went to bed there… and I didn’t even stay up all night last night watching Godfather 2 & 3. Lame. (In my defense, I do have to get up way early.)

    • nope, i didn’t see it. 😦 but i’ve just added it to my list. : P
      you must recommend more stuff you find interesting. it’s a MUST. 😛
      as for “dangerous minds”… it’s not that bad… don’t mind my opinion.

  3. kathleencross

    Thank you for your very insightful take on this flick. I think the screenwriter did the film a great disservice by turning Pfeiffer’s character into a stereotypical white crusader surrounded by equally sterotypical apathetic and envious people of color whose angry opposition serves to help the crusader shine.

    The demonization of the rose-growing grandma really took the cake for me. The screenwriter’s/filmmaker’s insistence on portraying every adult in the movie except LouAnne (and her sole white colleague who was her supporter) as apathetic or antagonistic doesn’t work for me. Dangerous Minds stands to this day as one of my least favorite films EVER.

    Ironically, the same (quite prolific) screenwriter wrote “When a Man Loves a Woman” and “Rain Main” (for which he won an Oscar) — two movies I love.

    LouAnne Johnson posted an excellent response to questions about the film and whether or not it reflected her true-life experiences.

    You can read her insightful response here

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