By 2007, movies about inspirational teachers reaching out to the unreachable had become a no. 2 pencil a dozen, and Freedom Writers doesn't raise the overall value of the genre. However, its broad strokes do become more detailed as it moves forward. The true story is not the problem, even though Erin Gruwell's class -- ethnically diverse to the point of tokenism, with mutual loathing among every minority -- would be considered trite if it were a work of fiction. Rather, it's Richard LaGravanese's sloppy direction and script that give this film its sputtering start. During the predictable opening scenes of friction, there isn't an ounce of nuance, and each line of dialogue is met with generic murmurings that are best suited to the chorus in a hammy musical. LaGravenese handles genuine problems among urban teens -- most notably, gang violence -- with such ham fists, he shuts off the viewer's every instinct toward sympathy. Fortunately, the film benefits from the presence of a two-time Oscar winner, and she makes it moderately interesting through sheer force of will. As the inspirational teacher, Hilary Swank does such a good job seeming sweet and recklessly optimistic, it's actually not grating. About the time she introduces the students to the plight of Jews during the Holocaust, a rough but effective metaphor for their own racial tensions, the movie starts to gain resonance. Freedom Writers never fully becomes a success, as the broad characterizations continue. Particularly frustrating are the sticks in the mud who oppose Erin's every gesture, be it a fellow teacher (John Benjamin Hickey), her department head (Imelda Staunton), or even her husband (Patrick Dempsey), who all display a casually racist cruelty toward the students. Then again, if those are the circumstances "Miss G" really had to deal with, the film shouldn't shy away from them.