he noble, committed teacher taking on an unruly class in an economically disadvantaged school is a premise with a lengthy history, so, as with Hamlet, one watches for the performances, not the story. In this film, about teacher of the year Ron Clark, the white North Carolina educator who decided his calling was in Harlem and single-handedly turned his class from incorrigible to incredible, the eminently likable Matthew Perry makes the character believable. But as anyone who has seen the real Ron Clark can attest, he also makes him his own. The real person is rather slight of build and exceedingly Southern of speech; Perry is neither. No matter. Perry's Clark charms his charges—and Perry his audience—with a winning way but is not above the inappropriate, if utterly understandable, reaction to a particularly recalcitrant child.
The actor's deft comic touch often comes into play, such as when Clark is disappointed at the class grades on a history test and so endeavors to teach them a rap song that lists all the U.S. presidents in order. This does not mean he shies from the unadorned emotional moment, however.
Much of Clark's character is established early in the film when a child, told by his teacher to stand in the hall in a wastebasket so he can go out with the rest of the garbage, is restored to dignity with a small gesture Perry renders with simplicity and utter honesty. On the TNT website, director Randa Haines revealed that Perry "disarms people, shakes them up and wakes them up a little bit." She continued, "I see him doing this with the kids off camera, and it's what he is able to do on camera. That's like Ron."