School of Rock

Reviewed By Ryan Arthur
Posted 10/18/03 05:13:39

"It's 'stickittotheman...onosis.'"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Hail, hail, rock and roll. School Of Rock could've been a one-joke concept about 'the Man' looking down his nose at music, but thanks to Mike White, Richard Linklater and Jack Black, it is instead a love letter to music, and rock and roll music in particular. It helps that everyone involved, from the lead down through the supporting cast and crew, is completely reverent to the subject. What's more, you've got a potential showcase for debauchery in the rock music lifestyle, and it's all shunted to the back to make School of Rock a family film. But it's never preachy or saccharine. It is, however, pretty entertaining.

Jack Black is Dewey Finn, slacker and wannabe budding rock star. He's booted from his own band prior to an upcoming 'battle of the bands,' and is just about to get the heave-ho from his roommate Ned Schneebly (screenwriter Mike White) and Ned's humorless girlfriend Patti (Sarah Silverman, really reined in). Dewey hasn't been covering rent, and Patti's needled Ned into giving him the boot if he can't make his share by the end of the week. But Dewey's not the kind of guy who can hold (or who wants) a regular job. He lives for music. "I serve society by rocking!," he claims. Fair enough. But he's bandless (which, obviously, he needs to win the $20,000 grand prize at the upcoming Battle Of The Bands), and noble cause though it may be, serving society by rocking just ain't paying the bills.

Dewey intercepts a phone call meant for Ned, who serves society by substitute teaching. It seems that Horace Green, a posh private prep academy, has been recommended Ned, and the principal/headmistress Rosalie Mullins (Joan Cusack) needs him in a flash. So, at the prospect of easy money, Dewey pulls a Single White Female and becomes Ned. He'll just sit around and do nothing, collect his paychecks, and search for new bandmates on the side. He finds those bandmates in his class at Horace Green, when after seeing them in their music class, Dewey's inspired to teach the kids the importance of rock, all under the nose of Mullins and the kids' parents.

Of course, it all builds to the battle of the bands showdown between Dewey's students and his former bandmates. The results are unimportant, because in the end, it's ultimately less about Dewey winning than about how he's matured, thanks to the kids. The teacher has learned from the students. Aww.

The plot is kind of by-the-numbers, but Jack Black amps it up. White wrote the part specifically for him, and there's a lot of Black in Dewey, as everyone knows how serious about his music Black is. It shows. When Dewey gets this wide-eyed maniacal look talking about rock and his influences, it's not so much acting as it is Black consuming the role. It's an almost overwhelming performance. Dewey has to deal with kids that have performance and personal issues, and it always turns out for the best.

Aside from Black, the kids play their parts well. Each of the primary band members was cast on their musical or singing ability rather than acting experience (since none of them apparently have any, according to the IMDb). This is a good thing, because it's got to be believable that this group of students can ultimately get onstage and collectively rock your fuckin' socks off. White plays Ned as a doormat, which is what he needs to be, and Silverman's Patti is appropriately bitchy without being the acidic character that you know she could be played as. Joan Cusack has always been a favorite, so it's always fun to watch her. She's got Mullins pegged as a straight-laced, buttoned-down type, afraid to let too much go or give the kids too much slack. Dewey ultimately gets her to cut loose in a moment of weakness involving beer and Edge Of Seventeen that pays off in the film's final reel. Fun stuff.

Oh, sure, PG-rated Jack Black is not nearly as funny as R-rated Jack Black, but he's still far more entertaining than most comedic actors going today. And really, how often do you see truly family-friendly films that don't revert to pure sugar while boring parents, making kids restless, and insulting the intelligence of everyone? School Of Rock is the kind of movie that I'd gladly take kids to, because it's smart and funny and has a healthy appreciation for music. It could've been the second coming of Airheads. It's not. School Of Rock stands on its own.

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