Pressure Cooker

Posted by schnolis on June 24th, 2009 filed in Reviews

PRESSURE COOKERAll over the country children are struggling to make the best of their lives. They aspire to live and be happy and possibly stretch a little further than their parents got. In some of the poorer areas, like in the inner city, the options available to kids are often slim. In many parts of my own city, Philadelphia, there are plenty of young people looking for some way to get into college and be able to pay for it. A few lucky ones get an unusual opportunity to compete for scholarships through a culinary arts program. Three in particular are the subject of Pressure Cooker.

The program is run by Wilma Stephenson, a teacher at Frankford High School in Philadelphia. She’s a firecracker, no-nonsense teacher who doesn’t take a lot of attitude from her students, and even less from everyone else. Her acerbic personality is legendary in the school system, as is her passion for providing students with an education about the reality of the food service industry. In this film, which is shot through graduation in 2007, she takes on a new crop of students highlighted by three promising young pupils.

Erica is a hardworking young woman helping take care of her legally blind sister, and manages to find time to be a cheerleader in addition to her challenging culinary classwork. Dudley, a giant of a man, is a football player bound to get scholarship offers but endures the rigors of the cooking as a challenge as well as for the friendship of his classmates. Fatuomata is a straight-A student who recently immigrated from the Ivory Coast in West Africa to live with a father she never knew who resists her efforts to make a life for herself. These three students, as well as the dozen other students in the class, are a tribute to everyone who finds hope through sacrifice, hard-work, and a dedication to succeed. The only real shame of the situation is that for each of these kids there are a dozen or more left behind without realistic chances at landing a job that will sustain them and their families. It’s tragic that poverty plays such a dominant role in the lives of so many, but maybe this film will encourage more people to lend a hand.

What I liked: The individuals in this film are lovely people, even the grating Mrs. Stephenson. You get a real feel for how much of herself she gives to her students. Sure, she’s demanding, but only out of a sincere desire to impart some practical benefit to those students taking her course. Anyone with that amount of dedication to helping others succeed, especially those without a lot of opportunity, deserves some slack. The students are real people who are facing the challenge of becoming independent and successful with the very real force of familial needs tugging back.

What I disliked: The repeated use of transitional shots depicting the dilapidated sections of Philadelphia. It got old after a while, and felt like we were seeing the same old row homes over and over again. We understand that these students live in this lousy conditions. The story is uplifting and even inspiriational, but the formula seems a little overused. That’s not a terrible fault, but I couldn’t help thinking that I’d seen this story once or ten times before.

Rating: 9 of 10

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