Waiting for Superman review

Story by Ben Rueter

In the opening moments of “Waiting for Superman” the viewer is introduced to five elementary public school students who have the odds stacked against them. These aren’t poor students who are living in a crime-riddled area, but rather these kids happen to be growing up in a city where good schools are hard to come by. In this case, large cities with low graduation rates and the schools that are succeeding; you gain entry through a lottery.

“One of the saddest days of my life was when my mother told me Superman did not exist,” educational reformer Geoffrey Canada said. “And she thought I was crying because it’s like Santa Clause is not real and I was crying because there was no one coming with enough power to save us.”

“Waiting for Superman” directed by Davis Guggenheim (“An Inconvenient Truth”) takes a look at where America’s education system is failing young students. It’s more of a cry to action than anything.

The core of the film highlights the failures and missteps of the education system in the United States. While eye opening, it becomes fairly depressing
by the end.

The film overlooks a lot of the efforts that these students, and more importantly, the parents, are doing in sight of these “doom and gloom” statistics. It’s easy to point out what is going wrong, but even harder to point out the successes and offer a solution to the problem.

Near the end, the film comes back to Canada’s success with his charter schools, but the film never gets at why and how he is one of the few to get inner city kids through high school and into college. If Guggenheim took some of his focus off of the negatives of a failing schools and education and investigated into why other countries are excelling in areas like math and science, the documentary would benefit from the insight.

The documentary also ends with a call to action addressing the audience to lend a hand and improve our education system telling them to contact school officials and politicians. Though, I never really felt motivated to do so once the credits began to roll. The film does a good job with backing up statistics and showing the audience what is wrong, but it lacks heart.

It is disappointing to see parents and kids struggle to gain acceptance into a successful inner city school, but the film never lets you get to know these kids very well. They all blend together. All of them are motivated, optimistic, and excited to learn more. Their parents are worried, hopeful, and struggling to give their kids the best education they can. But the film never goes deeper than that. If the film narrowed its focus to a few of the kids and let the audience just get to know who they are, the final moments of the film would benefit greatly from the emotional attachment audience would have.

“Waiting for Superman” is an important film that offers some hard and depressing facts about America’s education system, but is missing that necessary punch to really nail down the call to action the film is desperately trying to get across to the audience. In the end, if the film motivates those looking to teach, and become a great teacher at that, the film has done its job and given those struggling students a Superman to look up to someday.