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The School of Rock By Matt Singer
What the world needs now is Jack Black...sweet Jack Black. The eccentric, whirling dervish of an actor who made an indelible impression as butthole music clerk Barry in the modern classic HIGH FIDELITY and suffered his way through a string of movies not worthy of his presence has struck pure cinematic gold with his latest, Richard Linklater’s THE SCHOOL OF ROCK. Other movies have tried to contain him, but ROCK proves that the best method is to simply let Black be Black and just capture it on film. He’ll take care of the rest.
Here he plays Dewey Finn, the flipside of the elitist snob from HIGH FIDELITY; a lovable guy who just flat out loves rock and roll and loves to turn people on to its transcendent booty-shaking power. Unfortunately, his band is fed up with his indulgent solos and poor stage diving technique (as in people refuse to catch him), so they fire him and replace him with a poser just as his formerly cool, currently square roommate Ned (played by screenwriter Mike White) finally starts listening to his bitchy girlfriend (a surprisingly humorless Sarah Silverman) and gives Dewey a week to get some rent money or move out. Luckily, Dewey intercepts a call for Ned from a private school that needs him as a substitute teacher, and quickly impersonates him and gets stuck with a classroom of kids who know plenty about reading, writing, and arithmetic, but nothing of the most important “R”, rock, or rather “rawk” as Black prefers to pronounce it.
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THE SCHOOL OF ROCK should be just another Hollywood feel good piece of garbage in the vein of THE MIGHTY DUCKS or THE BAD NEWS BEARS where a loser gets stuck with a bunch of kids he doesn’t want or understand, but over time, finds a common ground through whatever the theme of the movie is; here, it’s quite obviously rock and roll, specifically your Led Zeppelins, your Black Sabbaths, and particularly, your AC/DCs. Linklater and White would be the first to admit they haven’t really done anything outrageously inventive with the formula; you’ve still got mild antagonists, convenient love interests, seeming failure, and ultimate triumph. Their trick is in the tremendous cast: the irreplaceable Black, nervous White, adorable Joan Cusack as the school principle, and a talented troupe of real musical prodigies who play the class-turned-band. The kids really can wail, and I can imagine this film really exciting and empowering little kids to pick up some instruments and learn how to play because White’s script really taps into a big fantasy of every 10-year-old: acting like a grownup, and learning to be cool.
Still, for slightly older audiences, the film hinges completely on Black, and while I suppose there could be viewers who simply don’t understand his wildman schtick; I can’t get enough of the endless antics and business. He makes phone calls funny, he makes crummy bed sheets funny, he makes scarves funny, he makes iMacs funny. Linklater let him run wild and Black earned the trust with tons of quirkily unique sight gags and mannerism that completely define his role. Black, a real musician in his band Tenacious D, really has a kinship with this character and believes strongly in his ideals. Just as HIGH FIDELITY cast him as the ultimate music critic makes good, his success in this film is also tied to his power and presence as a rock star.
No one else in Hollywood could play this part even half as convincingly. Hopefully its power and success as a quality Hollywood formula picture will translate into so much box office that studios will all learn a valuable lesson.