|School of Rock|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 02 March 2004|
“School of Rock” is a movie with a bit of magic to it – not “Harry Potter”-style magic, but rather the magic that happens when everything comes together in just the right way. This is all the more impressive as the magic is slow to work – the beginning of “School” looks so standard issue that it’s amazing to see it come to life and more surprising still to find it gradually overcoming its potential for saccharine convention to be actually funny and winning.
Jack Black plays Dewey Finn, guitarist and would-be rock star who plays in a struggling band and otherwise has little contact with real life. This concerns his ex-rocker-turned-substitute teacher roommate/best friend Ned Schneebly (Mike White, who also wrote the screenplay), whose live-in girlfriend Patty (Sarah Silverman) is furious with Dewey for his not paying the rent and generally being a slacker. Then Dewey is hit by twin crises – he’s kicked out of the band he originally formed and Patty is demanding that Ned throw Dewey out for failure to chip in for the apartment. The latter transforms into a plea from Ned to Dewey – please help me to keep my girlfriend calm, man. In the name of friendship, Dewey agrees to get rent money. With no plan in mind, he takes a phone call from a prestigious elementary school seeking a substitute teacher intended for the already-at-work Ned – and spontaneously decides to pass himself off as an educator. Dewey has no interest in teaching his young charges anything – until he hears them at their classical music lesson. Suddenly, Dewey sees a way of getting himself a new support band and starts teaching the kids how to apply their classical backgrounds to rock ‘n’ roll – while convincing the non-musicians they have hitherto undreamed-of skills. All of this is passing below the radar of parents and of seemingly ferociously uptight Principal Mullins (Joan Cusack).
“School of Rock” has to tread a very fine line, as the anarchy associated with hard rock is generally incompatible with the tone of movies – even those that welcome adult viewers – intended to be seen by fifth-graders. At first, despite what looks like an impeccable pedigree for both originality and rock verisimilitude – director Richard Linklater and writer/costar White both have strong independent film credits and Black, in addition to being a terrific actor, has a second career as one-half of the band Tenacious D – “School” looks like it’s going to be a lesson in inauthenticity. The opening sequences don’t provide much hope – Black is funny as the aspiring rock legend Dewey, but his improbable entry into teaching, the cuteness of the kids and their initial interactions feel on the formulaic side. However, once Dewey hears the kids play and inspiration strikes, he and the movie immediately come alive. As Dewey introduces the self-doubting young keyboardist (Robert Tsai) to the Doors’ signature riff in “Touch Me Babe” in Chapter 5, everything starts coming into focus. As the kids become more adept and ambitious, Black’s intensity finds an audience – Dewey is now playing to a crowd rather than in a vacuum – and it all comes together in an ever-tightening display of timing that is sharp both comedically and musically.
The sound mix is nice and clean, though for a movie about rock with a lot of classic killer soundtrack elements, it must be said that “School” has a rather modest surround track. In Chapter 17, there’s a nice sense of space, with a band performing offscreen in the rears while Dewey and the kids confer intensely in the center and mains, followed in the Chapter 18 by persuasively enveloping crowd sounds, but there are few discrete effects. Linklater, White and Black (no pun intended) create an environment where it’s easy to air-guitar/drum/keyboard along with Led Zeppelin and AC/DC, but the film is more about fun than sound.
Extras on the disc include a nicely informative documentary – most of the young actors are real musicians, doing their own playing – and a likable, off-the-cuff commentary track by Linklater and Black. The highlights, however, are two non-standard specials. Black introduces and provides an epilogue to a hilariously filmed clip of Black on-camera, first by himself and then directing his crowd of castmates and what look like a few hundred extras to join him, begging “gods of rock” Led Zeppelin to allow “School of Rock” to use “The Immigrant Song” on the soundtrack. (As viewers of the film know, the begging succeeded.) There is also an audio commentary track from the child actors that may be even more entertaining than the already delightful movie – they praise and tease each other, reminisce giddily about the scenes as they come up and sometimes chant favorite dialogue in unison with the characters onscreen, resulting in a sort of “School of Rock-y Picture Show” experience.
“School of Rock” is a charming, very funny movie that comes to DVD with bonus features that make it even better. Highly recommended.