School of Rock (2003)
School is now in session. Jack Black has long been a Hollywood oddity. He’s a whirlwind of manic energy but it can be accurately placed (his breakthrough in High Fidelity), or misused on hollow roles (Saving Silverman). Black is also a credited musician with his band, Tenacious D. Writer and sometime actor Mike White is a friend of Black’s and said he wrote the lead in School of Rock specifically for him. Will Black measure up with his first lead role, or will he be held back?
Jack Black plays Dewey Finn, a thirty-something lead guitarist who takes rambling guitar solos and crowd surfs even when theres no one to catch him. His band mates fire Dewey from the group for his outlandish behavior. Dewey’s roommate (Mike White), and especially his harpy girlfriend (Sarah Silverman, generally wasted here) urge him to find a job and start pulling his weight. A call comes in for Dewey’s roommate to substitute teach at a prep school. Dewey poses as his pal and enters the ranks of academia. When he finds out that his class plays instruments he organizes them into a band as a class project. When someone questions what they’re learning, Dewey shouts that they’re learning rock ‘n roll, which he says, ”Will test your head, and your mind, and your brain too.”
Black has showed scene-stealing ability in other films, but School of Rock gives Black the role he was born to play. His character isn’t some high-minded jerk that learns the errors of his ways by having his rough exterior melted by the compassion of children. Heck no. Black’s character remains rocks willing soldier from beginning to end, but School of Rock gives him the chance to share his passion and instill it in the youth. Black’s circus of eye bulging, energetic gyrations, and infectious excitement make a vibrant lead that can make us laugh at a moment’s notice. It’s a marvelous performance full of rock bliss.
Non-professional actors play the prep school kids that populate School of Rock. They smartly decided to have the kids played by real musical prodigies, so when they get jamming thats real ten-year-olds and eleven-year-olds putting people to shame with their musical ability.
The film isn’t anything new exactly. Its story is somewhat familiar, but it’s got an attitude all its own. School of Rock uses familiar elements and comforts the viewer, but its madcap energy, touching moments of heart, and ambitious belief that music can change lives will leave the viewer smiling from beginning to end. There wasn’t a second I wasn’t smiling or laughing while watching School of Rock.
School of Rock is a joyous movie that excels with sweetness. Lets just get down to it and say the flick is monstrously funny, heartwarming, inspired, charming, entertaining and certifiably rockin’ enough to blow you and your neighbors socks off. Dont be fooled by the PG-13 label (which I’m still scratching my head over), because School of Rock is the perfect film for families of all ages. Its got a genuine tenderness most comedies lack, and it also has a consistently cheery sense of humor that never resorts to inane gross-out gags like so many current comedies. This is one to take the kids and grandma too.
In lesser hands this film could have been a disaster. The kids would come off as cloying, Blacks character would come off as a crude loaf, Joan Cusack’s (a wonderful performance, by the way) principal character would just be an uptight bitch, and the familiar story would seem syrupy, like a Dead Poets Society with guitars instead of suicide. Under the smooth direction of Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Waking Life), one of the stalwarts of the 90s independent film renaissance, School of Rock strikes the right balance between warmth and Blacks uncaged craziness. Linklater has taken his indie sensibilities and assuredly given the film a heart that beats to the rhythm of rock n roll, that also never falters into sticky sentimentality.
School of Rock is an exuberant comedy, sharply written, with confident direction, cute kids, and the dynamic performance of Black. The movie will appeal to families, fans of Black, and people tired of feel-good formula films or those looking for a feel-good film. School of Rock will lift up your spirits and make you want to dance in your seat. I raise my goblet of rock and salute you, makers of School of Rock, for the greatest 108 minutes of fun I’ve had this year.
Nate’s Grade: A
Posted on October 9, 2003, in 2003 Movies and tagged comedy, drama, jack black, joan cusack, mike white, musical, richard linklater, sarah silverman. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.
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