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School of Rock

Editor’s Note: This was intended as a simple joint review: one article, by two people but in one simple voice. However, one of the reviewers that may of may not be Colin Brady, was at times ‘uncomfortable’ that the joint review format was not allowing full expression of his personal experience of the ‘film’. In the interest of deadlines, Mr. Brady’s “meditations on the human experience” within”School of Rock” are included for clarification.

This movie RULES. Or, better, in words once used by its star, and your favorite, Jack Black, in another context, certainly with less commas: this movie REIGNS. In a hysterical and shockingly un-schmalzty rendering of the common ‘good-for-nothing-burnout-guy with rock n’ roll fantasy accidentally joins up with a dorky bunch of underdog kids who somehow help him achieve his life-long dream of stardom while also touching his heart’ plotline, “School of Rock” delivers the goods.

Colin Brady: I think what ‘we’ are trying to say here is yes, the film is disarmingly genuine and yes, Black’s character undertakes a cathartic voyage not seen in western cinema since “Kindergarten Cop”. However, it is really the reversal of traditional establishment/anti-establishment power roles and inversions of the high-brow/low-brow cultural dialectic that makes this film “rock”.

As we lost and found our way to the Loews “not so” Fresh Pond Cinemas (note: avoid this place at all costs), expectations were running high. Both of us being big fans of Black’s incredible performance as a music-addled miscreant in “High Fidelity” and his real-life musicianship as one half of the band Tenacious D, we were frankly concerned that “School of Rock” wouldn’t live up to its own hype. With Black’s proven talents as a musician and a spastic loser, it seemed almost crazy that this film wasn’t made sooner. We were tempted to think that the whole thing was just too good to be true.

CB: To put a finer point (and by finer I mean right) on this: it is precisely Black’s authority as a signifier of both the “rock” vernacular and tropes of alienation on which it is constrcuted that make his Platonic (capital “P” here, people) self-discovery all the more compelling. En toto, Director Richard Linklater, ironically no longer “Dazed and Confused”, has come full circle to create a anti-Slacker film within the confines of mainstream comedic discourse. And, in my heart of hearts, I feel the assertion that Black’s musical and slapstick prequalifications should be a cause of concern is laughable…that’s like saying Emilio Estevez was too mighty for “Mighty Ducks 2”.

The conventional plot set-up gave us some initial pause as well. Recently booted from his craptastic Creed-esque band “No Vacancy” and in desperate need of rent money, Dewey Finn (Black) intercepts a phone call and substitute-teaching gig intended for his roommate Ned Schneebly (Mike White). Upon arrival at Horace Green Prep, Dewey (ne Mr. Schneebly, or Mr. S as the spelling of his roommate’s name fails him at the blackboard) encounters a class full of overachieving, formulaically repressed, type-A dullards. As Mr. S. begins to uncover their hidden musical talents and youthful alienation, we know he is going to somehow save them from themselves while they save him from himself while various funny things happen. Mostly funny things having to do with Led Zeppelin, turns out. The obstacles in their way? A swarm of unyielding yuppie parents, roommate Ned’s nit-picking/cop-calling girlfriend (Sarah Silverman), and one uptight school headmistress (Joan Cusack). Again, you can see where we feared this would be a cinematic disaster.

CB: Are ‘our’ concerns here tied up in the potential for narrative conflict within the spacio-temporal plane or fundmantal questions around the structural integrity of the narrative frame itself?

However, despite the huge potential for this movie to be two hours of marginal schtick (such as anything with Tom Green), “School of Rock” comes through with hysterical scenes and even a decent story. The real draw of the movie, and the source of the laughs, is that you can tell that Black is just not faking a thing. As he ditches the curriculum he is not remotely qualified to teach, he and his students discover the instructive potential of earnest, ‘face-melting’ air-guitar solos and idiotic rock gesturing.

Not surprisingly, we have to weather “I’m-sorry-I-lied-to-you-kids” gut-check moment on the way to the high energy finale featuring Black on-stage jabbering like a seizure victim among his newly transformed rock n’ roll ragamuffins. It’s a scene that gave even these Sabbath fans the warm & fuzzies. But will the kids’ compulsive parents feel the same way about the need to rock? That’s for me to know and you to easily guess.

The bottom line is, while the characters may have been a bit underdeveloped, the parents a bit two-dimensional, and the message a bit, this movie still doth rock a-plenty.

CB: Finally! I was similarl disappointed by writer/actor Mike White’s failure to recreate the nuanced characters and disturbing narrative landscapes that distinguished his previous films “The Good Girl” and “Chuck and Buck”.

A must see for fans of Jack Black, and music dorks everywhere.

October 20, 2003
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