Starring Jack BlackDirected by Richard Linklater 110 minutes Rated PG-13
Fall is upon us and that means movies are about to get serious. Studios are shaking out their Oscar bait and sweeping away the silly summer fare. Somehow School of Rock slipped through the cracks, so here it is, a goofy movie full of cute kids and paper-thin characters, opening in gusty October.
Jack Black stars as Dewey Finn, a professional slacker who mooches off his roommate, substitute teacher Ned Schneebly, (played by Mike White, who wrote the screenplay), and his bitch-on-wheels girlfriend, Patty (Sarah Silverman). When Dewey gets kicked out of his band because his twenty-minute guitar solos are cramping their style, Patty forces Ned to give Dewey an ultimatum: pay his back rent or get kicked out of the apartment. In desperation, Dewey borrows Ned’s name and poses as a sub at an uptight private school, whose equally uptight principal, Miss Mullins (Joan Cusack), has no idea what she’s in for. Dewey is soon secretly teaching the kids how to rock (that should probably be spelled ‘rawk’) so they can enter a battle of the bands and show his old buds who’s the boss.
The filmmakers were looking for musical kids rather than actors, and happily they were able to get both. These are real kids with real talent and a whole mishmash of real shapes, sizes, and
colors. Of course, they are all adorable, looking quizzically at Dewey when he shows them slides of guitar heroes and big-haired singers, and earnestly absorbing his heartfelt but rambling lectures on Hendrix and Plant and the drummer from Rush. If anything, I was expecting more puns on album titles or pop culture references, but it’s not really a big deal. However, there are exactly zero jokes about cranking it to 11, which is a disappointment.
The movie calls on familiar stereotypes, but the excellent cast does their best with the slight material. Joan Cusack, as the tense principal who turns into Stevie Nicks after three fingers of beer, is pitch-perfect as usual, with her nimble face and tweedy wardrobe. Jack Black throws himself into the role, his mind going a mile a minute trying to fabricate the next part of his scheme. He’s a good physical comedian whether he is jumping on tables, stage diving, or simply letting his beer gut precede the rest of him into the classroom. Dewey takes the kids seriously, and treats them like people, not lik babies or miniature adults, and it helps that he himself is not the most mature of grownups.
For the most part, the movie flows well. It drags a bit when Sarah Silverman is on screen, her one-note part very quickly wearing thin. Parts of the plot stand up to close examination about as well as Bon Jovi lyrics stand up to close examination, but since this is a story about rocking out and sticking it to the man (a concept that Dewey has to explain to the kids) that doesn’t really matter. Don’t fret, fans of serious movies, that Gwyneth Paltrow film about Sylvia Plath will be out soon, but for now there’s School of Rock, a fun movie with an excellent if underused cast, and a great way to spend one of those increasingly gray fall afternoons.