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The School of
dominance over American culture has reached new levels with The School of Rock.
One can just imagine the producers in the board room salivating over their brilliant,
novel idea whose time finally has arrived: a family movie about rock n roll.
But never mind the incredible irony or smattering of hypocrisy behind
whats possibly the first rock film marketed specifically to parents. Thats
because The School of Rock is consistently funny, despite a plot thats as
predictable as a September heat wave in San Francisco.
The sometimes brainy, sometimes wacky director Richard Linklater (Dazed
and Confused, Before
Sunrise, Waking Life,
makes the most of the "gather-the-kids-onto-a-winning-team" formula by paying
attention to the terrific detail in the clever script by Mike White (Chuck and Buck). Yet the movie belongs to the
frenetic Jack Black, who at every instance upstages the sassy and remarkably real-looking
kids with whom he shares the screen.
Black plays Dewey Finn, a down-on-his-luck, egomaniacal freeloader
whose mediocre talent gets him thrown out of his band only weeks before a big "Battle
of the Bands" contest with a lucrative prize comes to town. So when a school
principal (a pleasantly low-keyed Joan Cusack) mistakes Dewey for his well-meaning
substitute teacher friend Ned Schneebly (White) over the phone, Dewey answers the call and
shows up at an exclusive prep school to make a few fast bucks by impersonating a teacher.
Though its preposterous that no one ever checks to see what the
new teacher is doing, its also amusing to see him toss away the lesson plan and
authorize a day-long recess. But teaching does enter the picture soon enough, when
Dewey/Ned overhears the kids during their music class, and realizes he has the raw
material to make a new band in time for the big competition. Seven kids in the class
join the group; the rest fulfill other important duties, such as special effects,
costumes, security, management and even groupies.
Yes, the cliches abound: The Asian piano virtuoso soon rocks out on
keyboards, the snippy gay kid goes overboard with sequins on the costumes and the
know-it-all girl in the front row becomes the savvy band manager. And yes, its
absolutely no surprise that the kiddies ultimately get to be kick-butt rockers after Black
plants some simple seeds of so-called rebellion in them. But Black leads them there with
such zeal (and family-oriented!) abandon, his charm is difficult to resist.
Even the utterly obvious guitar riff lesson featuring "Smoke on
The Water" and a lecture on the importance of Led Zeppelin are appealing in
Blacks hands. Better yet is the extensive genealogical family tree of the various
sub-genres of rock that covers the classroom's chalk board.
A few moments of the movie explore real issues in a sweet way. Black
smartly braces the spirit of a genuinely talented large girl who is afraid to sing in
front of others because shes fat by letting her know the power of Aretha Franklin.
He does it without being sappy. In the end, that modest sentimentality coupled with some
pithy rock 'n' roll details give power to the slight, but not stupid, The School of
Rock. Chances are itll be the first of a series of rock movies for parents to
watch with their children; chances are itll be the best.
- Leslie Katz