School Of Rock

More than adequate if unmemorable family pleasing comedy.

Released in 2003, certified UK-PG. Reviewed on 04 Feb 2004 by Scott Morris
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Dewey Finn (Jack Black) is raging against the machine. His over the top on-stage shenanigans have seen him booted out from his band, viewing him as a an embarrassment they can ill afford if they're to win the upcoming Battle of the Bands and the associated twenty grand prize. He's in danger of being booted out of his mate Ned Schneebly (Mike White)'s crib on the insistence of Ned's horrendously bitchy girlfriend Patty (Sarah Silverman). Ned urges Dewey to give up on his long term dreams of making it as a rock star in favour of a real job in a middle class version of Eminem's 'living up here' schtick in 8 Mile. In need of cash, an opportunistic Dewey seizes a chance to pose as Ned to take a highly paid job at a prestigious private school.

As a teacher, Dewey understandably sucks. His teaching plan of 'letting the kids play all day' fails as these strange little kids actually want to learn. Crazy. He's struck by an inspirational thought after overhearing the kids music lesson - form a band with them. A few minor lies later and he's convinced them to start on a new class project - rock band. You're more than likely able to predict the rest from there as they face the usual self-belief issues and parental opposition in the run up to the big contest.

While it's never in danger of losing sight of the genre formula there's nothing inherently wrong with that. Formulas survive for a reason - they work and so does the majority of School Of Rock. Dewey lives in a world where This is Spinal Tap doesn't exist, a devotee of half hour guitar solos and contractually obligated stage dives. What saves him from descending into an unbearable parody character is a heartfelt and very genuine love of rock music and it's tenets. When he goes off on a tangential rant about rock being the original way to 'stick it to the man' it's not hard to feel his conviction, and as such it's a lot easier to go along with.

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I suppose my biggest worry going into this was the children, a frequent source of irritation in a great many films. Thankfully there's nary an annoying man jack among them, and frequently steal the best lines in the film. Clearly the guys like Zack (Joey Gaydos Jr.) and Freddy 'Spazzy McGee' Jones (Kevin Clark) have an abundance of musical talent and aren't too shabby when called upon to act, although admittedly it's hardly Shakespearean in depth. All in all it's a fine collective performance from the munchkins, many of whom have talent levels I can only dream of. Much of the credit for this has to go to director Richard Linklater (veteran of Dazed & Confused fame) who corals the kids to great effect.

The adult supporting cast have very little to do and little time to do it in, particularly Sarah Silverman. Her character is one of those unfortunate enough to be a complete bitch from the outset without ever showing any positive characteristics at all, and there's never any obvious reason why Ned puts up with her. In many ways it's Ned's own fault, given that he wrote it, or his portrayer Mike White did at least. For the most part he's done a good job in creating a decent family film that's going to keep the kids happy while giving the adults a chance to relive their rock youth and a fair few laughs along the way. Quite a jump from his faintly disturbing Chuck & Buck.

Joan Cusack is tasked with the role of officious Principal Rosalie Mullins and does everything asked of her, although it's only as she reaches an exasperated end of her tether in the last few reels that there's any flashes of the true skill she's capable of displaying. This film is first and foremost Jack Black's show, and if you've yet to be swayed by his charms it's unlikely that there's going to be a lot of changed minds on this showing. It's not that he's doing anything particularly wrong, but he's in danger of becoming utterly typecast. There's little to separate his character here from his turn in High Fidelity or his involvement in Tenacious D, which I suppose guarantees the film interest from his fans but not from those unconvinced of his charms.

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He gurns and shouts his way through portions of the film, which will delight his fans and irritate his detractors. For everyone in the middle (such as myself) it'll prove amusing in a slightly over the top fashion. The songs turn out to be pretty decent, a nice bonus and despite the predictable uplifting happy ending it at least keeps one foot in reality. It's aimed at nothing more than a breezy, light hearted slice of entertainment and it achieves that. There's only one real problem I can think of with it.

I haven't a clue what any of the funny moments were. This is worrying in a film, especially as the normally infallible memory of our own Rhythmwiz can shed little light on the proceedings. Either the cinema's air conditioner was pumping out Stupid Gas those few days ago or there's not much in the way of truly memorable entertainment to be had from this. Indeed, of any film I've seen in the last few years this seems to have had the shortest memory half-life I've experienced, hence this frustratingly vague review.

What I can remember, however, is being in a state of continual amusement. That's what all it sets out to achieve and it does. It's a comparatively intelligent family comedy that will keep both kids and adults entertained which is something few other family films of late (Peter Pan, I'm looking at you) can boast. It seems harsh to knock off a mark because of my memory failing me, but I choose to look on this as a failing of the film rather than of my faculties. Others may disagree, if prompted I'll set Lord Hutton onto an inquiry.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 3/5 TippyMarks.

Richard Linklater
Cast list:
Jack Black (Dewey Finn)
Mike White (Ned Schneebly)
Joan Cusack (Rosalie Mullins)
Sarah Silverman (Patty Di Marco)
Joey Gaydos Jr. (Zack)
Miranda Cosgrove (Summer Hathaway)
Kevin Clark (Freddy Jones)
Robert Tsai (Lawrence)
Maryam Hassan (Tomika)
Rebecca Brown (Katie)