I'm not positive that School of Rock was written exclusively for Jack Black. But it is impossible to imagine this film without him. Light on plot and so low on action it could have been a stage play, School of Rock is a 110 minute set piece that pretty much lets Jack Black revel in his Jack Blackness. If you like Jack Black, you'll get a kick out of this film. I do. And I did. School of Rock made me laugh more than any film this year.
Black plays Dewey Finn, a guitarist for an aspiring rock band, the kind of wild man who throws himself into the mosh pit with no consideration for whether anyone would bother to catch him. He believes in the power, the glory and the redemption of Rock and Roll. He's as subtle as Meatloaf, the singer or the entree. In short, he's an embarrassment, and the band fires him just weeks before a big Battle of the Bands competition. Dewey had been counting on the prize money to pay rent money to best friend, Ned Schneebly, a former rocker turned substitute teacher. So Dewey does the only logical thing you can do in a comedy like this: he pretends he's Ned Schneebly and takes a job as a 5th grade teacher at a prestigious private school. Dewey doesn't worry about being in over his head. He simply lowers the bar, kicks back and waits for his paycheck. Until he overhears these young prodigies in their music class and gets an idea that’s so crazy it just might work.
It's at least an hour more of the film before Dewey takes the stage at the climactic Battle of the Bands with his all grade-school musicians, at which point angry parents and the uptight school principal have already crashed the concert with visions of Dewey's head on a pike. Everything before, during and after that is utterly predictable. Yet School of Rock prevails because...well because it rocks. And because Jack Black is nothing less than unstoppable. His signature character is a loser who never doubts himself, no matter how much evidence to the contrary, and Black riffs on Dewey Finn like a hypoglycemic kid in a candy store. Black has the best eyebrows this side of Nicholson and the best moves by a stout man since Belushi, and tacks on a few hundred mannerisms all his own.
Jack Black brings to the screen all sorts of stuff that would seem impossible to script. But in fairness the screenwriter is Mike White, who also stars as Ned Schneebly. White previously scripted such admirable features as The Good Girl, Chuck and Buck, Orange County and episodes of Dawson’s Creek and Freaks & Geeks. The director is Richard Linklater, the man who made slacking an art form. The producer is Scott Rudin, a master of the independent/mainstream hybrid. Maybe the reason School of Rock ends up rocking instead of sucking is because these are smart guys who know exactly how to make a wonderfully dumb movie. And the bit of sentiment they allow themselves is well earned. They may have stooped a few times for the joke. But they never patronized their characters. And for that I raise my lighter high. And again for casting Joan Cusak. And again for the kid actors who -- unless I got totally suckered -- actually played their own instruments. And once more for the filmmakers, who did one thing that was totally unpredictable....they didn't devise a romantic subplot...because the film didn't need one. Now that is the work of true rebels.
© 2003 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 10/1/03
School of Rock
US/Germany - 2003