Waiting For Superman

Davis Guggenheim

BY Michael EdwardsPublished Feb 25, 2011

Since documentaries have crossed over into mainstream cinema, thanks to the likes of Michael Moore and Errol Morris, more and more people can see what were once considered "niche" movies. But with this newfound success comes increased analysis and that has never been more apparent than with Davis Guggenheim's 2006 film, An Inconvenient Truth. It might have gone on to win a couple of Oscars, but its message of global warning was met with cynicism and even hostility from some. And, as a result, documentaries are increasingly viewed as opinion pieces with some type of agenda. And that is very much true of Guggenheim's look at the failing American education system, and is likely why it wasn't nominated for Best Documentary at this year's Academy Awards. Waiting For Superman isn't particularly uplifting viewing, even if it's quite compelling, thanks to the five kids whose cases form the main narrative. In addition to cataloguing countless problems with the U.S. education system, Guggenheim demonstrates how attempts to change things have fallen flat. He stops short from flat-out finger pointing, but the teachers' union doesn't come off looking too good. And as always, it is the politics of it all that's so frustrating ― charter schools are not always the magical cure they are presented as and no other options are voiced. But when the education of any child is quite literally dependant on a lottery, something obviously needs to be done and the climax of the film is unsatisfying and bleak. This is definitely a documentary that poses more questions than it attempts to answer, and it doesn't feel like the entire story. There are four more brief segments included as extras on the disc, which feature some additional students and teachers. Considering that these are the strongest element of the film, another 30 minutes is a good thing. The other special features are less interesting, especially the one detailing how John Legend composed the film's title track, "Shine," while the brief interview with Guggenheim doesn't even begin to scratch the surface.
(Paramount Pictures)

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