Jack Black teaches his pupils the ABCs of rock
in an energetic performance in 'School of Rock.'
School of Rock”
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
(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.”