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'Half Nelson' Director on the Power of Friendship

Writer and director Ryan Fleck, actress Shareeka Epps and writer Anna Boden attend a screening of <em>Half Nelson</em> at New York's Museum of Modern Art in March.
Paul Hawthorne
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Writer and director Ryan Fleck, actress Shareeka Epps and writer Anna Boden attend a screening of Half Nelson at New York's Museum of Modern Art in March.

Movies about unlikely buddies have inspired writer and director Ryan Fleck, whose latest film, Half Nelson, chronicles the relationship between an inner-city junior-high student and her inspiring -- but crack-addicted -- teacher.

"I wanted to make a movie in that tradition and push the boundaries of what an audience would accept as friends," says Fleck.

Fleck, who wrote the screenplay for Half Nelson with his longtime partner Anna Boden, cites movies such as Harold and Maude, Midnight Cowboy and The Last Detail as examples of this tradition.

Dan Dunne, the teacher character played by Ryan Gosling, is idealistic and wants to "make a difference" through his teaching. But he's so flawed, Fleck says, that he can't change his own life. He befriends one of his students, Dree, played by newcomer Shareeka Epps.

"I'm very excited by the notion of very different people trying to help each other out," says Fleck. " I think that’s the simple message, if there's a message" to Half Nelson.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Michele Norris