Fifteen years ago the true story of marine turned English lit teacher Louanne Johnson was adapted (from the acclaimed novel My Posse Don’t Do Homework) and brought to the screen by John N. Smith in the shape of Dangerous Minds. Now, I’m not claiming that Smith’s film is a societal eye-opener or cinematic gold that unearths the wrong-doings of the poverty stricken families of America. But I am saying that after re-watching the inspiring story, the film stands on it’s own as a strong exploration of the difficulties of growing up in a world dominated by hierarchy and gang battles. Dangerous Minds is also beautifully 90’s and anyone who grew up in the decade will be transformed back to the days of Coolio and LV’s Gangsters Paradise which just so happens to be the theme song. Those melodic beats can win anyone round.
Michelle Pfeiffer stars as Louanne, a tough cookie going through a divorce (from an abusive husband) and seeking a new adventure in her life. Joining the Parkmont High School, she is given a group of teens who have been failed time and again by the system and live their lives day to day – some carrying guns for protection, some from downtown slums and others not given the attention their clear intelligence obviously needs. Renoly Santiago, Wade Dominguez, George Dzundza and Idina Harris all co-star and help bring together a culturally diverse cast. Feiffer, Harris and Dzundza are the strongest when it comes to acting ability, but the weaknesses of the rest (as well as the slight cliched character representations) can be forgiven when you remember there is real heart to this story.
The film was scored by The Revolution’s Wendy & Lisa and boasts the best in 90’s hip-hop – you can’t help but rap along with the famous Coolio and LV track which opens the story and successfully reiterates the kind of tone – and locale – audiences can expect. Smith’s direction is pretty simple, and that’s appropriate as the majority of the story takes place in Pfeiffer’s classroom. If anything, a little more background on the students in which Johnson inspired would be appreciated – especially when it comes to Santiago’s Raoul and Dominguez’ Emilio. The latter’s departure from the narrative owes to a pivotal scene – and possibly the best of the entire feature – as Pfeiffer showcases her talent. There won’t be a dry eye in the house.
Smith’s film is a good adaptation exploring a woman who inspired a group of forgotten teens in a bid to get them away from the life in which is destroying them. Further exploration of the ghetto’s these kids come from would owe to a more varied narrative, and some much needed time away from the classroom set piece but generally, Dangerous Mind‘s is one of the strongest of this school drama sub-genre that came about during the late 90’s/early 2000’s. It’s entertaining fare that is desperately trying to make a social comment – and it certainly achieves that to some extent. This is urban drama for the masses.