Matthew Perry Triumphs in the Ron Clark Story
Four years after taking up a temporary teaching post in his home town Ron Clark (Matthew Perry - Three to Tango) decides it is time for a new adventure and heads off to Harlem in search of work teaching in an inner school. Having been forced to work part time as a waiter in a theme restaurant whilst finding a teaching job, Ron finally gets an opportunity having convinced a Principal to allow him to teach a class of no hopers and rebels at the Inner Harlem Elementary School. At first Ron struggles to get through to the rebellious kids, but his unorthodox approach slowly works, although not with out issues with both the school's Principal and the children's parents. But none of what Ron does, the sacrifices he makes will matter unless his class pass their exams.
Think of any inspirational movie which features a new teacher taking on a class of students who have been given up on and the sort of gritty drama such as "Dangerous Minds" might spring to mind. One which might not is "The Ron Clark Story" starring Matthew Perry, or "The Triumph" as it is also known, because whilst it is another one of those inspiration teacher movies about a group of kids whose lives are turned around by a determined teacher who believes in them, it is not a movie which is necessarily gritty. In fact it is much lighter and aimed at a different audience to those grittier movies, as such "The Ron Clark Story" feels not so much different but fresh.
Now "The Ron Clark Story" is in fact one of those made for TV, inspired by a true story, movies and it is one which attempts to balance the drama of the situation with a lighter touch, even delivering a slightly humorous under tone to the story. In many ways it is akin to "Patch Adams", revolving around Ron Clark's humorous and often unorthodox approach to teaching. Annoyingly though it doesn't quite work as it should, yes it's entertaining, slightly humorous and even emotional when it needs to be but it doesn't have that big lasting impact because it doesn't dwell on the situation outside of the classroom, despite acknowledging the hard lives that the children live. In many ways it tries to be a family friendly version of "Dangerous Minds" with a younger class of rebellious kids. But because of this there is part of it, that sense of doom and dark drama which is sadly not developed.
But as you would expect being another one of those true story - inspirational teacher movies "The Ron Clark Story" does follow a pretty recognizable formula from Ron's struggle to get through to the kids, the disapproval of the parents and the schools principal right through to an emotional ending, oh and a little heavily sign posted yet sweet romance as well because Ron is a nice guy and deserves it. It doesn't add anything new to the equation other than several humorous scenes such as when to get his class to pay attention he agrees to drink a chocolate milk every 15 seconds. The humour helps with plenty of funny moments, some overly manufactured such as the presidential rap but some nice natural moments which achieve the smile and warmth they set out to do.
What is very good though is the casting of Matthew Perry as Ron Clark because despite cast for being both likable and amusing is for once not Matthew Perry playing the same character again, that of Chandler from "Friends". It's actually a very enjoyable, impressive performance and more importantly believable, such as when Ron having been diagnosed with pneumonia still carries on teaching because he cares, with Matthew Perry delivering the emotion of it perfectly. You do honestly forget that you are watching Matthew Perry rather than an honest good guy who has a passion for teaching children. Although saying that there are some forced comedy moments which feel far too contrived despite Matthew Perry making them entertaining, one in particular is the scene where he tries to learn double dutch skipping and of course trips up a lot.
What this all boils down to is that "The Ron Clark Story" is an enjoyable take on the inspirational teacher tale. It may follow a familiar structure with all the expected elements and emotional highs but with the slightly lighter emphasis and the casting of Matthew Perry it ends up very entertaining.