This Day in Film: ‘Dangerous Minds’Published by Michael Arceneaux on Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 11:38 am.
People love movies depicting challenged students saved by an unlikely, almost whimsical instructor or administrator that employs unorthodox teaching methods to save the day. Films like Lean On Me and Dead Poets Society are a testament to this, though works with shared themes prove to be profitable but not necessarily critically acclaimed.
Such is the case for the 1995 drama Dangerous Minds.
The bad kids gone good narrative is centered on the true story of ex-marine LouAnne Johnson (played by Michelle Pfeiffer), who struggles with her newfound role as teacher in what’s described as a “school within a school” for troubled students. Johnson, or “White Bread” as her Black and Latino students branded her, has to figure out how to teach students largely soiled by their poverty, drug abuse and gang activity.
She miraculously does so by way of bribing the kids with candy and teaching them about Bob Dylan. If that sounds unbelievable, congratulations, you have just the right amount of cynicism. In his Dangerous Minds review, legendary film critic Roger Ebert noted that the Dylan storyline seemed dubious and upon further research found that in book the movie is based on, “The real Miss Johnson used not Dylan but the lyrics of rap songs to get the class interested in poetry.”
Naturally, a lot of critics found the movie to be a bit unbelievable, too. In the Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan, wrote, “The tale screenwriter Ronald Bass came up with, and the way director John N. Smith tells it, is stereotypical, predictable and simplified to the point of meaninglessness.”
Film.com’s Bradley Steinbacher quipped, “Stay home and watch Welcome Back Kotter. It’s more enlightening.”
Yeah, what they said. Most didn’t agree with either critic’s assessment, though, as the film grossed more than $179 million. The movie also boasted a soundtrack that featured one of the biggest hits of the decade: Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise.” The Grammy-winning song was the biggest selling single of 1995, and is listed at number 69 on Billboard’s Greatest Songs of All-Time.
The movie also spawned a short-lived television spin-off on ABC. The show only lasted one season, however, and was blasted by the real LouAnne Johnson for the unbelievable turn her character had taken.