|Stand and Deliver|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 10 November 1998|
'Stand and Deliver' has always seemed rather like a very smart, well-made TV movie, an impression that is greatly enhanced when it is viewed on the small screen. A fact-based story of academic achievement in the face of enormous odds, 'Stand and Deliver' is often quite entertaining, no mean feat for a story that is in the broad strokes David vs. Goliath but is specifically about high school math class.
When teacher Jaime (pronounced "Hay-me") Escalante (Edward James Olmos) first arrives at Garfield High in East Los Angeles, he expects he'll be teaching computer science. The school can't afford computers, however, so Escalante forges ahead with math. Initially, most of his students are apathetic, defiant and/or just plain baffled, but he presses on in the belief that the kids will rise to the level of expectation. Alternately brow-beating and cajoling his charges, Escalante actually gets eighteen of his students as far as the National Advanced Placement Calculus Exam. For awhile, it seems Escalante has done his job a little too well--the educational establishment views the Garfield students with such disdain that when they all come back with high scores, the test authorities assume cheating is involved.
'Stand and Deliver' is handsomely photographed and has an agreeable soundtrack, but nothing leaps out aurally or visually, with one exception: the mix in Chapter 13 features clanking chains and keys so realistic that you may find yourself looking around the room for a few seconds, wondering what fell over, before realizing the sound is coming from your speakers.
Olmos is excellent as the driven teacher--his Oscar-nominated performance is one of the main reasons to watch the film--and the script by director Ramon Menendez and Tom Musca dynamically illustrates good teaching techniques. In Chapter 5, we even get an explanation of where the concept of zero, lack of numerical value, may have originated. Indeed, 'Stand and Deliver' is so persuasive about Escalante's skills that math-deficient viewers may be tempted to seek out the real teacher and ask for tutoring. However, the movie is so conscious of being good for us that despite its theatrical flair, it starts to feel overly earnest by the climax. Escalante and his students achieved something remarkable and admirable, but the style of 'Stand and Deliver' is such that we wind up looking at the miracle from outside rather than fully experiencing the triumph along with the characters.