Movies: School of Rock (2003)

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by Tom Johnson

I love Jack Black, and while I can’t say everything of his has been outstanding (Saving Silverman, as I often say, is the worst movie I’ve ever seen,) he has a good track record for being entertaining, and in a “rock” context, he is usually hilarious. He didn’t disappoint in the slightest.

Now, let me make something clear: this movie is one cliche’ after another for nearly two hours. There isn’t one new idea in the film and nothing will come as even the most remotely surprising. It’s basically simple and stupid, and you know from the moment the film starts what’s going to happen. And it just doesn’t matter. The whole point of this movie is simply to give Jack Black an excuse to be Jack Black on-screen for two hours. You get Jack Black rockin’ out, you get Jack Black freakin’ out, you get Jack Black being snotty and rude — you get it all: the whole Jack Black package that fans know and love. This works because Jack Black is most suited to being himself in movies, and when you pair that with his great love, rock music, the results should be great. Essentially, this is Jack Black as High Fidelity‘s Barry gone solo — if you enjoyed his turn as Barry in that movie, you’ll love him here.

What’s the story? Pretty basic: Black, as guitarist Dewey Finn, loses his spot in his band, can’t pay rent to his substitute-teacher best friend Ned (played by writer Mike White, who also gave us Chuck & Buck, Orange County, and The Good Girl) and when he accidently answers a call from a school looking for his friend Ned, he takes the job and assumes his identity without Ned knowing it. Throw into the mix Ned’s nosey, overpowering girlfriend, a class of musically talented kids, and an uptight school Dean (played by Joan Cusack) and you can just about write the screenplay yourself. The beginning is a bit rough, as the setup is a bit tired and overly predictible with not enough humor to keep it moving, but once Dewey enters the school the pace picks up immediately.

The refreshing part about all this is that several of these kids could sing and play their instruments quite well, and it’s obvious in many scenes that what we’re hearing is the real kids’ talents at work. Dewey, as Ned, gives the kids a thorough history of rock, focusing on, in his eyes, “real” rock and not just what’s popular today, giving due to The Who, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, and Rush, among others. (Sadly, however, Black mispronounces Rush drummer Neil Peart’s name — it rhymes with “ear,” not “hurt,” Jack. You, of all people, should know that!) Along the way, viewers are treated to a goodly number of very Tenacious D styled Black-penned songs that will elicit many laughs for not only the sheer over-the-top cheesiness of the lyrics but his very enthusiasm in rendering such authentic rock anthems.

A movie like this shouldn’t be so entertaining, but it is because everyone involved didn’t try to make it more than it is. Mike White obviously wrote his screenplay with Jack Black in mind in an effort to give him a perfect canvas for his talents. There’s no other excuse for something like this to exist; no one needed another film in this tired, simplistic genre. And sure, it’d be easy to go on about how disappointing it is that Black’s not stretching his acting talents and challenging himself, but when he appears to be having as much fun onscreen as he so obviously does here, how can you not enjoy it yourself?

Where Saving Silverman was also a very (very) stupid movie storywise, it also failed because the actors themselves (especially Black) seemed to be thinking the entire time “Dude, this is stupid, why did I sign onto this?” School Of Rock succeeds because the attitude seems to have been to just go out and have fun. And have fun they did: Black is at his wildly manic best here and he has a supportive “supporting” cast that reacts to him like seasoned comic vets should.

A plus that Alissa pointed out was that the kids never succumbed to the Hollywood cliche’ of kids always being “cute” and “precocious.” These kids played and acted with no attitude whatsoever; they were perfectly normal. There were no “aww”-inspiring moments, and they even glossed over the one “woe is me” type moment that all kid-based movies have (you know the type — there’s always one kid who’s fighting against an oppressive family member who doesn’t want him engaging in whatever behavior has been deemed as “beneath” him, but he really loves to do it and finds a way to make good in the end.)

The result is an entirely entertaining movie that makes up for it’s faults and predictibility with enthusiasm and a generous dose of inspired humor.

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Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson has contributed to Blogcritics, and maintained a series of stand-alone sites including Known Johnson, Everything is a Mess and others. He studied both creative writing and then studio art at Arizona State. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Tom Johnson
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