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Film: Lean on Me
Joe Clark is a bad man. And we mean that in the best possible way, as in "don't fuck with him." When Paterson, New Jersey's Eastside High School found itself on the brink of being taken over by the state due to piss poor test scores, Clark was brought on board as principal to right the sinking ship.
— From this Cracked article.

Lean On Me is a movie Very Loosely Based on a True Story about a tough new school principal who brings a new level of order to an otherwise chaotic school.


Tropes:

  • All of Them: The mayor's aide delivers this line when a horde of unhappy students march on City Hall while the school board is meeting to vote Mr. Clark out as principal, after he's already been jailed for violating local fire safety laws.
    (The students are all in the town square outside, chanting "Free Mr. Clark!")
    Mayor's Aide: It appears Mr. Clark's students have assembled outside in an exercise of their First Amendment rights.
    Mayor: How many?
    Mayor's Aide: It looks like...all of them.
  • Bad To The Bone: The movie's present-day sequence opens with a memorable shot of Eastside High having long slid into decay, with Guns N' Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle" blasting as delinquents throng the halls. This was one of the first times that song was used in the movies.
  • Darker and Edgier: In comparison to most movies about inspirational educators. A teacher gets brutally beaten in front of a crowded lunch room in the very first scene. Things do eventually improve, though.
  • Dispense With The Pleasantries: At a teachers' meeting, Clark makes abundantly clear that flattery isn't going to work on him.
    Mr. O'Malley: We want to welcome Mr. Clark to Eastside; we've heard so much about you; and tell you what we have done in anticipation of your arrival. Mrs. Levias, your other vice principal, and I, have appointed an executive committee to oversee certain areas where we have noted a need for improvement, and Mr. Zirella, for example...
    Joe: You may sit down, Mr. O'Malley.
  • Engineered Public Confession: Played straight, but by the antagonists in an effort to get Mr. Clark fired.
  • Good Is Not Nice: It really isn't.
    Joe: I cried "my God, why has thou forsaken me?" and the Lord said "Joe, you're no damn good. No, I mean this! More than you realize, you're no earthly good at all unless you take this opportunity and do whatever you have to." And he didn't say "Joe, be polite".
  • Informed Poverty: How are the kids able to afford all those colorful clothes? (Of course, this is a problem with way too many '80s movies to mention.)
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: While Clark tends to be a Drill Sergeant Nasty to everyone, including the teachers working for him, he does have their best interests in his heart and really does care for those in need.
  • Large Ham: Joe Clark, as portrayed by Morgan Freeman.
    Joe: You've tried it your way for years, and your students can't even get past the minimum basic skills test. THAT MEANS THEY CAN HARDLY READ!
  • Listing The Forms Of Degenerates: Joe Clark does this a few times:
    I've got thugs, drug dealers, and deviants of all kinds trying to get into my school.
    • Or...
    I want the name of every hoodlum, drug dealer, and miscreant who's done nothing but take this place apart on my desk by noon today.
  • Non-Giving-Up School Guy: Joe Clark takes drastic measures to keep students in school and to keep undesirables out of school.
  • N-Word Privileges: Joe Clark at a meeting calling himself the HNIC, and another black person at the meeting clarifying afterwards to a white colleague that it stands for "head nigga in charge."
    • Later, while trying to pump up the students as they prepare to take the test, he tells them that people think "you're just a bunch of niggers, spics, and poor white trash", urging them to prove their detractors wrong by performing well on the exam.
  • Precision F-Strike: See above.
  • Rape as Comedy: Borderline. In the opening, "Welcome to the Jungle" sequence, a boy grabs a girl's shirt and rips it off, leaving her in her bra. He doesn't do anything to her after that, but it's still uncomfortable to watch. But what's "funny" about it is that the girl is more embarrassed than truly terrified.
  • Save Our Students
  • Shoot the Dog: Many of Joe Clark's actions have some arguable moral ambiguity to them, from chaining and locking school doors (in violation of fire safety rules) on being told that someone from inside the school let an expelled student into the building, to firing a teacher for picking up trash during the school song for which everyone was told not to move.
  • Stuffed into a Locker: Sams, at the beginning of the movie. Then, to drive home how bad things have gotten at East Side High over the last 20 years, Sams is yelling urgently to be let out, yet a janitor walking down the empty hallway (the school day had just ended) completely ignores him.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: This is how Dr. Napier convinces Joe to take the job of principal at Eastside High:
    Napier: The truth is that for all your talk and all your "Crazy Joe" routine, what have you ever done? Nothing! You're nothing but an insignificant man! It's like you were never born! Your life hasn't made one bit of difference! And neither has mine! Want to take that to the grave?
    • Clark later gives several of these himself. It's a significant part of his management style.
  • Verb This!: Just after Mrs. Berrett and the fire chief spring their Engineered Public Confession on Mr. Clark and he's being taken away in handcuffs by the police with some of his students (including Sams) looking on:
    Clark: Mrs. Berrett, if you think you can—
    Berrett: SHUT UP! You're finished! The school board is going to hear this at seven o'clock, and we are gonna vote your black ass out.
    Sams: *grabs his crotch* YO, BITCH! VOTE ON THIS!
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The movie definitely takes some liberties with the truth: Clark was a very tough disciplinarian who really did clean up Eastside High, and he really did use a bullhorn and brandish a baseball bat, and he was a controversial figure for these reasons, but the movie otherwise makes up a lot of stuff. Despite the improvements Clark made, he did not succeed in getting substantial improvements in test scores, although his supporters say he would have if he had been kept in office longer.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: The teachers get sick of Clark's belittling of them and extending his Jerkass attitude towards them and let him know it. Not that he really cares, at least initially. Then Mrs. Levias tears into him about it...
  • Your Little Dismissive Diminutive:
    Mrs. Elliott: I would love to stay and chat, Mr. Clark, but I've a concert in New York in two weeks and I would like to be prepared.
    Joe Clark: What?
    Mrs. Elliott: Prepare. You do know what prepare means, don't you? It means ready, capable and up to your job.
    Joe Clark: What concert, Mrs. Elliott?
    Mrs. Elliott: The one at Lincoln Center. We do one every year.
    Joe Clark: Until now. As of this moment, your little concert is cancelled.
Las Vegas BloodbathFilms of the 1980sLeningrad Cowboys

alternative title(s): Lean On Me
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