With Davis Guggenheim's Waiting for Superman we get to watch in disgust and horror as four bright kids get screwed over by the American education system, a labyrinthine tangle of bureaucratic red tape that seems to favour job security and convenience for educators over the well-being of the children.
You'll note that I did not include the word “shock” with the words “disgust” and “horror” in my opening sentence, and that's because nothing in this documentary really comes as a surprise. The problems of the public school system in America has been well publicized enough over the last ten years that the arguments made by the film (ie: the need for better teachers, longer days, higher standards), while irrefutable, are not all that eye-opening. The statistics Guggenheim cites to emphasize the dismal success rates of specific schools in the country become repetitious blanket statements that have less and less impact as the film moves along. Where the impact does come from are the “case studies” of five children, brimming with potential, whose families cannot afford the private education that would serve them best, thus placing them at the mercy of lotteries that determine the lucky few who get to attend successful out-of-district schools. Guggenheim milks these stories for sympathy very well, leading up to the nail-biting random draws that will decide the kids' fates.
Waiting for Superman is not quite as good as Guggenheim's previous Oscar-winner An Inconvenient Truth, but is still a reasonable guess for one of this year's Best Documentary nominees. Here's hoping John Legend's “Shine” can find room in Best Original Song, but since it's an end credit track, I wouldn't hold my breath.
**1/2 out of ****