Not your usual feel-good story

Half-Nelson movie review

I usually avoid teacher movies. I have never seen Dangerous Minds or Freedom Writers. I’m tired of seeing the fresh-faced young white person go into an urban school full of kids of color and save them from sure doom. I’ll stick to Stand and Deliver or just fantasize about my The Wire meets Degrassi TV show idea. But Half-Nelson has been intriguing from its indie film festival buzz: the fabulous Ryan Gosling(too good to be true in The Notebook) plays a crackhead middle school teacher. Gosling proves he deserves that Best Actor Oscar nod, even if the uptight Academy passes him over next Sunday.

The film follows Dan Dunne, a teacher who introduces his charges to dialectics and theories of change while cracking jokes with just the right amount of realness. He also coaches girls’ basketball which strengthens his bond with the plucky Drey(Shareeka Epps, who probably should have gotten some award nomination.) But, despite his ability to inspire his Black and Latino students to memorize key events in American and world history, his life is a mess. When he’s not playing just not that into you with a pretty Latina co-worker, he is depressed over his ex-girlfriend’s recent engagement and falling deeper into drug addiction. When Drey befriends the local drug dealer Frank(Anthony Mackie), things go from bad to worse. And the film stays at rock bottom with Dunne, which allows Ryan Gosling to deliver. Half-Nelson is not weepy and melodramatic nor is it graphic and depressing. It sheds light on human weakness with authenticity.

Half-Nelson is available on DVD

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