The School of Rock
got sort of a weird love/hate thing going with Jack Black. I think
he's a terrific comedian and a pretty decent singer/songwriter, too.
Yet, he is a bit of a one-note personality. His standard character is
a sort of a know-it-all rock snob and slob who makes up for a lack of social
stature with a bullying in-your-face insistence that everyone live within his
hard and fast rules of hip.
I know that he's parodying people like this (at least, I hope he's just
parodying these people). But, having spent many years in
the musical and publishing worlds, I've known way too many of the people
Black is lampooning. So every time he launches into one of his
tirades, even when it is truly funny, I feel a queasy sense of déjà vu. I
don't know if I want to laugh or punch the guy.
Which is, I guess, why I've tended to prefer Black in small doses. He
has worked best in supporting roles, as John Cusack's smug co-worker in
High Fidelity or as the slacker older brother in Orange County.
Starring roles in stuff like Shallow Hal and Saving Silverman
have tended to wear out his welcome.
School of Rock is the first film that has been placed squarely on
Black's shoulders. I'm pleasantly surprised to find for the most part
he is up to the challenge. It helps that there is some terrific talent
on both sides of the camera. The film was directed by indie hero
Richard Linklater, who had seemed to lose his way after impressive early
films Before Sunrise, Slacker and Dazed and Confused. It
was written by Mike White (Chuck & Buck, The Good Girl), who also appears
acting as Black's
roommate. Joan Cusack has a nice turn as an uptight school principal.
funny that all these fringe talents are at the service of this story, which
is on the surface, at least, is sitcom stuff at best, kind of ridiculous at
worst. Black plays Dewey Finn, an over-thirty rock god wannabe who
even annoys his band with clichéd guitar solos and stage dives. In one
day his world falls apart. First, his best friend and roommate Ned Schneebly (White) gives in to the
nagging of his girlfriend (Sarah Silverman somehow rises above the shrill
harpy role she's been given) and refuses to allow Dewey to freeload off of
him anymore. Then, he is fired from his band.
Desperate for money, Dewey comes up with the idea of pretending to be Ned
and take a job as a substitute teacher at a exclusive (read: rich and stuck
up) boarding school. We are supposed to overlook the fact that an
private school... hell, any school... would never, ever hire someone sight
unseen without seeing any identification whatsoever. At first, Dewey
figures he can sleep and goof off. But, and this is where the film
starts to do something a little subversive, the kids in his class are honors
students and actually want to learn. Dewey can't understand the fact
that they are not willing to slack off, but when he sees the students
learning classical music he, realizes there IS one thing he can teach the
children. He can teach them how to rock.
course, to these children, rock and roll music is as foreign as classical is to
Dewey. They learn riffs from Ozzy and Led Zep and Deep Purple with the
same inquisitive wonder as they would apply to Brahms. It turns out
they can play. Damned well. Black tells them it is a school
project and forms a rock group which he hopes will beat his old group in a
battle of the bands. All the while, he is trying to hide what he is
doing from the student's parents, his roommate and Joan Cusack's neurotic
principal with a secret yen for Stevie Nicks.
Okay, so it is a stupid story, but does it work? Surprisingly well.
Part of this is due to the sheer abandon with which Black throws himself
into the role. Even his annoying tendencies don't seem to chafe,
children are wonderful, everyone smart and complex and cute -- but real
kids, not precociously "Hollywood" cute. This adds a gravity
to the featherweight story and makes the big battle of the bands finale
The School of Rock is a movie that truly is much more than the sum of
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright © 2003 PopEntertainment.com All rights reserved.
Posted: October 11, 2003.