School is back in session across the globe, and as kids sit down to learn, let’s look back at 1995’s blockbuster high school drama, Dangerous Minds.

The Plot

Louanne Johnson has just been hired as a teacher for a class that nobody wants. When she enters her classroom and meets the assorted group of students, Louanne quickly learns that this isn’t going to be the traditional high school English class.

Filled with strong willed kids who are bused in from some of the poorest neighborhoods in Los Angeles, Louanne adapts and starts to meet the kids at their own level. Rather than forcing the inconsequential curriculum as pushed by her uptight principal, Louanne starts to make gains with the kids by engaging the students with the lyrics of Bob Dylan. Violence is impossible to escape for some of her students and Louanne must deal with the consequences of her student Emilio being murdered.

Heartbroken and wanting to quit, Louanne’s students appeal to her to stay. They describe the impact she had on them, and how much she meant to their choices and success. Louanne is touched by the sentiment and agrees to stay.

Cinematic Compliments

The classroom that Louanne walks into doesn’t look like a warzone. It looks like a normal class where the kids have a hard time following the rules. I liked the fact that the film respected the environment of the school and the lives of the students.

The unknown actors who played the kids in the class were fantastic. They gave some depth and life to their parts that make the school scenes so engaging.

Cinematic Complaints

Every lead character is a caricature. Being based on a true story, I can respect the role that Pfeiffer plays because her character is based on reality. She is trying to do the right thing for her students. No matter how real the material may touch on the life of LouAnne Johnson, Pfeiffer’s character comes off as the white lady who tries to save the poor and suffering minority kids from a life of crime. This film unleashed a slew of similar films that all hailed the white lady protagonist who came to the inner-city school to save the poor minority kids.

Courtney B. Vance is a talented actor that is brilliant in any role he plays. His talent is completely wasted in the role of the principal. Not only is Principal Grandey the typical caricature of the administration official that doesn’t care about the kids, but Vance is forced to whisper his dialogue at a level that is so soft that viewers may struggle to hear him.

While the film may be based on the real life LouAnne Johnson, the content of the film is drastically different than the real story. In the film Louanne reaches the kids by teaching them about Bob Dylan. The real LouAnne Johnson was able to connect with the kids by using rap lyrics that helped bridge the divide between the students and the curriculum. I would have much rather seen Pfeffer use the lyrics of Snoop Dog, Notorious B.I.G, or Tupac, than Bob Dylan.

Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” is a great song but doesn’t need to be heard more than once in the film. It felt like the movie would pop in the lyrics or a sample of the song at points in the film when the audience might lose interest in the story.

Fun Film Facts

  • Michelle Pfeiffer was pregnant during some of the shooting of the film. Anytime she is wearing a bulky sweater or long dress and carrying an object in front of her stomach, that’s because she is noticeably pregnant.
  • Andy Garcia was cast and shot scenes as Louanne’s love interest in the film. His role ended up on the cutting room floor. (What a shame! Garcia is a talented actor that might have given more depth to Louanne)
  • The film is based on the real LouAnne Johnson’s book titled My Posse Don’t Do Homework. The movie was originally titled the same as the book.
  • The real-life Emilio (a student in Louanne’s class who is killed in the film) wasn’t murdered like it was depicted in the movie. He went on to graduate from high school, enlisted in the Marines and lives in California to this day.
  • The actor who played Emilio, Wade Dominguez, died three years after filming due to respiratory failure.
  • The film’s soundtrack was nominated for multiple awards.
  • Coolio would earn Grammy’s for his song “Gangsta’s Paradise”
  • Michelle Pfeiffer would also win a Blockbuster Entertainment Award for her role in the film.
  • The soundtrack to the film went triple platinum.
  • With the success of the movie, a spin-off television series aired on ABC in 1996 starring Annie Potts. The show only lasted one season.
  • Pfeiffer was able to co produced the film with her company Via Rosa Productions.
  • The music video for “Gangsta’s Paradise” features Michelle Pfeiffer and was directed by Antoine Fuqua.

The Golden Popcorn Bucket Award

While I can appreciate that it may be hard to bring the true story of LouAnne Johnson’s book to the screen, I found it very hard to watch Dangerous Minds. I remember this film being a huge blockbuster that came out of nowhere. Having Coolio’s song helped propel the movie beyond the norms of box office success.

Watching Dangerous Minds now is tough. Not because the subject matter is too much to deal with. The plight of the kids in the class is true, and the actors who played the kids in the class were excellent. But stereotypical plot devices and a serious distortion of the real LouAnne Johnson’s book riddles the film with cliches that are superficial and bring down the value of the story.

Dangerous Minds gets 1 Golden Popcorn Bucket.

Coming Attractions

Next week we continue our back-to-school theme with 1992’s Encino Man.

Production Credits

Directed by John N. Smith

Produced by Hollywood Pictures, Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer Productions, Via Rosa Productions

Starring:

  • Michelle Pfeiffer as Louanne Johnson
  • George Dzundza as Hal
  • Courtney B. Vance as Principal Grandey

         

Release Date: August 11, 1995

Budget: $23 million

Box Office Gross

Domestic: $84,919,401

Worldwide Total: $179,519,401