Rated PG for some thematic material, mild language and incidental smoking, 102 minutes
Compelling, provocative but flawed "Waiting for Superman"
They say that sex, religion and money are not great conversation starters. After seeing the new documentary "Waiting for Superman," you may want to add education to that list. Entertaining, thought-provoking and often times sad, it's hardly a balanced look at the flaws of American education and it certainly doesn't provide any hard and fast answers, but "Waiting for Superman" may have people analyzing the system that's increasingly becoming a hot topic.
Documentary filmmaker Davis Guggenheim ("An Inconvenient Truth") investigates the failures of the American education system through the eyes of several children: Anthony, Francisco, Bianca, Daisy, and Emily. They range in ages from first grade through middle school and attend various public schools across the country that have failed them. However, they're pining their hopes on getting into different charter or boarding schools that have proven to be more successful than their public counterparts.
With "Waiting on Superman," Guggenheim provides a provocative, stirring look at a relevant subject that's been a hot topic the last few years. It's most fascinating when reviewing the statistical data that proves that America's education system has been failing our children then seeing how it's affected the real-life examples that are examined in the film: Anthony, the pre-teen being raised by his grandmother or the bright young girl named Daisy who's already chosen her college.
The flaws with "Waiting on Superman" may be the challenging, expansive subject itself. Many, many issues are raised - everything from bad teachers, tenure, "tracking" of students, lack of funding, to the teachers unions - but no genuine hard and fast solutions are presented to the many problems. The closest it comes is when it examines the actions of Michelle Rhee, chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools system, whose tough, ruthless and often unpopular approach in repairing one of the worst school districts in the country have made her one of the most talked-about educators of recent memory.
"Waiting on Superman" does have a point that it makes quite compellingly, particularly in the poignant, heartbreaking final moments when the families await word if they've been accepted in the better schools: make improvements or essentially see the future of our country go down the drain, as Superman won't fly in and save the day. Guggenheim's liberal slant won't appease everyone, but it does something most films don't do these days: make you think.