The latest high-profile advocacy documentary to emerge from Sundance, Waiting for “Superman” tackles America’s education crisis, putting a human face on some very depressing statistics. We meet five swell grade-school kids who want nothing more than a chance to learn and eventually go to college, but whose future prospects depend largely upon whether or not they beat the odds and wind up selected—via lottery—for what is in each case the only decent school within 100 square miles. The villain? Teachers’ unions, whose insistence upon tenure makes it almost impossible for administrators to get rid of their most useless employees.
Director Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) does his best to make this material cinematic, even though it’s clearly more suited to a book or a lengthy magazine essay. He shamelessly uses his gaggle of adorable kids and their beat-down single moms as blunt instruments, knowing perfectly well that only one child, at best, is likely to make the cut, given that the ratio of applicants to spaces at the successful schools is generally around 6-to-1. “Superman” successfully jerks your tears and fuels your outrage, but it’s more a recruiting tool than a movie.