catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 2, Num 19 :: 2003.10.10 — 2003.10.23


School of Rock replaces irony with enthusiasm

I can’t believe how good School of Rock is. It’s really, seriously great. Sitting in the theatre, I nearly cried from the pure joy and of it all.

See, there’s this guy named Dewey Finn (Jack Black). He’s a thirtysomething loser who has been ousted from a rock band (that he started!) for being a little too in love with twenty-minute guitar solos and (unsuccessful) stage diving. Being a thirtysomething loser, he lives with his friend, Ned Schneebly (screenwriter Mike White) and Ned’s slightly controlling girlfriend Patty (Sarah Silverman). Patty and Ned are after Dewey to get a real job to pay his share of the rent for the apartment that he and Ned “share.” Handily, Dewey answers a phone call meant for Ned offering a position as a substitute teacher at a local upper class prep school. In a ridiculous spur-of-the-moment scheme to make a few bucks (but a believable one, taking into account Dewey’s personality), Dewey assumes the identity of Ned Schneebly and takes over a class of overachieving fifth-graders. Unable to muster interest in any of the kids’ regular curriculum, Dewey attempts to grant his class recess for the first couple days of his teaching engagement, but being the bright bulbs that they are, the kids demand some form of education. Upon spying on them in band class and spotting their musical talents, Dewey hatches an ingenious plan to educate his students in the ways of rock, form a band with them, and ultimately win (what else?) the Battle of the Bands.

Formula? Absolutely. But director Richard Linklater’s brilliance lies in taking that formula and infusing a huge dose of heart—something sorely lacking in most cinematic comedy lately. This is not fart jokes and it’s not cheap teen sex comedy. And it is not a detached, ironic film obsessed with appearing cool. This is an astonishingly warm story with real characters that you actually care about. You know how most comedies give you stock characters and hit you over the head with painfully obvious humor? Yeah, you do. None of that here. Here we have a grade school student with a hang-up about her weight, an uptight middle school principal who sincerely wishes she could loosen up (and also happens to do a mean Stevie Nicks), and a fake substitute teacher whose intentions are equal parts selfish and sweet. Even better, White and Linklater turn the “rebellious students vs. crusty old teacher” cliche on its head, presenting us with a class of well-mannered, ultra-square youngsters for Dewey to loosen up and lovingly nurture with his wise but crude brand of slacker wisdom.

Of course, Jack Black was made for this role. His unbridled enthusiasm, witnessed previously in movies like High Fidelity and Orange County and in performances of his two-man band, Tenacious D, is put to perfect use here when he is allowed to be the entertaining juggernaut that he is. It’s sheer pleasure to see the spark of mischief and excitement in his eyes while teaching rock appreciation, handing out CDs and having the kids study up on Led Zeppelin, Rush, Yes’s keyboards, and Pete Townshend’s windmill-strum technique. Here is a man who sincerely believes in the transformative powers of rock and roll and cares enough about his students to eagerly share it with them.

And that’s the most important thing about School of Rock. It rocks. What this movie understands is that rock is creational. It’s one of the things God made us to do. In School of Rock, rock and roll is distinguished from everything it has been mistaken for—image, drugs, money, “scoring chicks”—and revealed for what it is—catharsis, joy, celebration.

It’s giving very little away to tell you that the film culminates in a final huge musical performance by the class/band. Before going on stage, Black’s character circles up with his students to offer a short prayer: “God of rock, thank you for the opportunity to kick some ass tonight.”

There’s not much I can add to that.

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