School of Rock (2003) / Comedy-Musical
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for mild language and some drug references
Running Time: 95 min.
Cast: Jack Black, Joan Cusack, Mike White, Sarah Silverman, Joey Gaydos, Miranda Cosgrove, Kevin Clark
Director: Richard Linklater
Screenplay: Mike White
Review published September 30, 2003
School of Rock becomes the third recent feel-good comedy to come out with a musical backbone, and when you have a formula that works, it seems unlikely to be the last. So far so good, as Freaky Friday proved to be a crowd-pleasing hit, while The Fighting Temptations made some noise in a minor way. The only real addition in this strictly formula mix is that of Jack Black himself, the edgy comic actor/musician that is generally viewed as perhaps too scary in his manic delivery to carry a film that is borderline family fare. It's a gamble, but it does pay off, as Black takes this limp and often witless comedy and turns it into a very entertaining comic diversion.
Black stars as Dewey Finn, a struggling rock musician who is asked to leave the band he formed mostly because he is seen as keeping them back talent-wise. He's been loafing off of his best friend for some time, but after a new and disapproving girlfriend enters the scene, Dewey finds that his days of a free ride are soon over. Desperate for just about anything, Dewey intercepts a substitute teaching job offer meant for his roomie, and snatches up the opportunity of teaching a class in an upper-crust private school. It's a school boastful of its own prestige, and not the sort of institution to take kindly to Dewey's very unorthodox ways of teaching, which consists of indoctrinating the class into the ways of Rock n' Roll. His plan: to get this group of young, raw talent to perform well enough to compete in the Battle of the Bands competition, while keeping a lid on the fact that he is a fraud.
How much you like School of Rock will most likely come down to how funny you find Jack Black's hyper antics, turning in what is probably the most powerful energetic bad-boy performance since John Belushi's heyday. Black struts, moves and sings as only he can do, and perhaps the most impressive feat he achieves is his ability to be funny here without resorting to profanity and gross humor, which he had been typecast in doing to this point in his career. It's a breakthrough performance that should catapult him to the forefront of today's comic actors.
With co-star Mike White penning the screenplay, it's a role tailor-made for Black's talents. White also wrote a part for Black in the mostly unfunny Orange County, which found Black stealing every scene he was in. Like OC, White's script is filled with cartoonish characters and heavily contrived situations, and White even gives himself a juicy supporting character to play, the roommate, a role that proves to be fairly unnecessary and not very interesting. However, he knows that it's Jack Black's show all of the way, and every scene is merely an avenue for him to display his wild demeanor and strange facial contortions while belting out some pseudo-metal ditties.
Largely lost under the Jack Black juggernaut is another competent directorial job by Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise, Waking Life), although his biggest fans will most likely think he is selling out to the Hollywood establishment in a wholly commercial venture. However, even if School of Rock doesn't gain any points for artistic significance, at least Linklater has the intelligence enough to know this, and puts his own interests aside in delivering the entertainment by allowing Black to provide the steam for this engine to run.
School of Rock has a broad based approach, attempting to appeal to kids through the subject matter, the 18-30 year-old crowd with Black's involvement, and the over 30 crowd who grew up fans of good old rock 'n roll, which the film pays utmost respect to. Although it should be a hit with most, I would recommend lowering expectations if you are not a fan of Black, if you are seeing this for Linklater's involvement, or are expecting something other than predictable formula fare. However, if you just want some fun and a few chuckles, School of Rock is a worthwhile filmmaking lesson in "Hollywood 101.
©2003 Vince Leo