Matt Pais, @mattpais
RedEye movie critic
12:00 AM CST, February 6, 2014
** (out of four)
No one denies that kids can thrive with access to properly funded resources and dedicated teachers.
Yet Chicago native director Patrick Creadon's limited doc "If You Build It" only strives to show the benefits of education with practical applications and hard work. Don't get me wrong: I think it's great that design-focused problem solvers Emily Pilloton and Matt Miller continued their work with high school kids in North Carolina after the school board pulled the pair's salaries off the table. Pilloton and Miller teach students -- one of whom would rather shovel animal feces than go to class -- to build a cornhole board, a chicken coop and a farmer's market. The hope is that not only will these teens discover a creative outlet, but the town, which considers a new Domino's a significant increase in job opportunities, may see an uplifting effect from the market's prosperity.
Again: This is good work being done. But "If You Build It" forgets to analyze the school board behaviors it broadly attacks by actually talking to the decision-makers. Creadon should have spoken with locals who have stayed and those who have left, and get closer to concerns about "brain drain" in a place everyone supposedly can't wait to escape.
Financial and strategic problems in the education system aren't easy to tackle on-screen, as evidenced by the uneven "Waiting for Superman" and shallow "Won't Back Down." Still, "If You Build It" exists in a vacuum, and seems to minimize several hiccups along the way. A film like this should try harder to assess the problem it identifies, rather than swooping in with proactive help that can't necessarily be replicated on a grand scale. It's like a movie about people who see someone with a broken leg and say, "I bet you'd feel better after a massage."
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