say your piece
 
ISSUE NO.152
OCTOBER 9, 2003
 
 
theReel
Black, White and Linklater 'School' Hollywood on a Formula
By Jeremy Mathews
 
 
Jack Black teaches his pupils the ABCs of rock in an energetic performance in 'School of Rock.'  

“The School of Rock”
Paramount Pictures
Directed by Richard Linklater
Written by Mike White
Produced by Scott Rudin
Starring Jack Black, Joan Cusack, Mike White, Sarah Silverman, Joey Gaydos, Maryam Hassan, Kevin Alexander Clark, Rebecca Brown, Robert Tsai, Caitlin Hale, Aleisha Allen, Miranda Cosgrove, Brian Falduto, Zachary Infante, James Hosey, Angelo Massagli, Cole Hawkins, Veronica Afflerbach and Jordan-Claire Green
Rated PG-13
Now Playing
(out of four)

The plot outline of “The School of Rock” made me expect the type of overly sentimental comedy that usually results from teaming an actor and children. But success comes from execution. The star-making performance from Jack Black, the excellent casting of non-cutesy kids and the writing and directing deny cheesy sentimentality in the name of sharp humor and as close to honest storytelling as you can get from the concept.

There’s a fine line between making a complete misstep like “Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star” and one of the funniest films of the year.

Director Richard Linklater and screenwriter Mike White have reworked the inspirational teacher story into a longing tribute to the spirit of rock and roll. The hero may be a goof-off loser, but passion for his beloved music flows through every moment of his existence.

Black plays the film’s hero, Dewey Finn, with a mad confidence. A musician himself from the duo Tenacious D, he displays obsessive knowledge, disdain and pity for the unaware—like he did as the obnoxious record-store employee in “High Fidelity”—as his character teaches a classroom of 10-year-olds the meaning of rock and roll.

Dewey is a would-be rock star who finds himself in a jam after being fired from his band’s lead guitar post with only two weeks before the Battle of the Bands. On top of this, his roommate, Ned Schneebly (White, in another amusing supporting role that he seems to write for himself in all his films), has asked him for rent to appease his new girlfriend (Sarah Silverman). “I’ve been mooching off you for years,” Dewey says, blaming the new girl for his troubles.

To make rent, Dewey answers a call for a substitute teacher, intended for Ned, and arrives at a fancy private school without a clue of what he’s doing. “You mind if I cut out early?” he asks the principal (Joan Cusack). Still, he manages to trick her and sit out the day while the kids wonder why he’s not teaching them anything.

The next day, he overhears the kids’ classical music rehearsal and realizes that, given the opportunity, they could rock. He moves in his gear and begins to teach the kids his original material and how to understand the essence of rock.

The classroom scenes are indispensable. Black holds nothing back as he commands the room, lamenting his lost dreams and telling kids that it used to be possible to “stick it to the man” through rock and roll, but now everything has been commercialized. The lessons are wonderfully wild, such as the class effort to write a song about what pisses them off called “Step Off.” The lyrics create comedy through Dewey’s clumsy lyrics, while demonstrating that rock is indeed a raw, fast way to express emotions.

Another highlight is Dewey’s a cappella rendition of his new song, “So You Think You Can Kick Me Out of the Band?” It’s Dewey’s wannabe prog-rock epic, with a running commentary on the arrangement and the lighting, and conjures up dreams of grandeur in a classic performance piece.

“One great rock show can change the world,” Dewey tells the class. The film’s success lies not only in its ability to see the irony of Dewey’s statement, but in that deep down, he believes it, and teaches the kids that they should be willing to believe it.

Dewey makes the class’s non-band-members the crew, featuring roadies, a flamboyant stylist, back-up singers and costume and lighting designers. The funniest character is Summer (Miranda Cosgrove), the class suck-up who was originally designated as a groupie—but after researching the position on the Internet and complaining, she moves up to band manager.

The scenes with the kids don’t feel like forced sentimentality or cuteness, and that ultimately results in some actual emotions when the kids let their unrepressed personalities emerge. It’s not expected, but the climax really is quite touching. And Dewey experiences a previously foreign level of responsibility, even as he sneaks around school policy.

The scenes outside of the classroom include a tightly wound performance from Cusack as the uptight-but-sad-about-it principal, who at one point freaks out with a great explanation of why she is the way she is. Silverman and White also create some nice comic moments, as the girlfriend who heavy-handedly tells her boyfriend not to let people push him around.

But the real highlights are in the classroom, where Black establishes his star power with comic stamina as a mad teacher who tries to teach his hijacked pupils the enthusiasm that made him never want to get a real job, but instead “contribute to society by rocking.”
jeremy@red-mag.com

 
     
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RED Magazine is a publication of The Daily Utah Chronicle. RED is published every Thursday. For information on advertising, call 801-581-7041. To have your event considered for publication, write to jeremy@red-mag.com. Copyrighted material remains the property of the original owner.

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