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By Mark Sells | November 9, 2003

Let there be sound, and there was sound
Let there be light, and there was light
Let there be drums, and there was drums
Let there be guitar, and there was guitar
Let there be rock
“Let There Be Rock” – AC/DC

Jack Black is a tenacious rock n’ roll freak. And “School of Rock” is proof of that. In it, Jack plays Dewey Finn, an aspiring musician who masquerades as a substitute teacher and schools the students on things like rock history 101, the wonders of performing a life changing show, and the ever present evils of “The Man.” Black is at his finest in this musical comedy, becoming an unlikely role model for a group fifth graders and a proponent of positive re-enforcement. Directed by Richard Linklater, also known for such cult comedies as Slacker and “Dazed and Confused,” the film is preposterous in plot, but genuine in spirit. And with unconventional flair and an outrageous performance by Jack Black, “School of Rock” is a comedy for the whole family to enjoy. It’s funny, it’s heartfelt, and it just rocks.

Dewey Finn is a musician for all the right reasons. He loves music, has the talent, and believes his band can revitalize rock n’ roll. Unfortunately, the band doesn’t share in his sentiment, seeing his onstage antics as an embarrassment and eventually kicking him out. Disappointed but not deterred, Dewey looks to assemble another band and win the illustrious Battle of the Bands contest in a few weeks. Living the life of a poor musician, Dewey is unable to pay his roommate, substitute teacher Ned Schneebly, his share of the rent money. In fact, he hasn’t been able to pay Ned for the past few months and Ned’s girlfriend is starting to take issue.

Desperate to help his friend, Dewey answers a call from Principal Mullins of Horace Green Elementary School and pretends to be Ned. He takes the temp job at the school thinking that it will be an easy gig and a quick way to pay Ned back. Initially, Dewey silences the students and tells them it will be recess all the time while he recovers from a hangover. But after stumbling upon the kid’s talents during music class, Dewey concocts an elaborate scheme that could get him into the Battle of the Bands competition – a school project called “rock band.” Covertly, he elects to use the students as his band, turning them into rock musicians, managers, roadies, and groupies. Eventually, all of this comes to a head, but not before the children have gained a new level of self-confidence and belongingness.

Jack Black is passionate about rock n’ roll. Bit by bit, he’s been schooling us – from his music store fanatic Barry in High Fidelity to his Neil Diamond obsessed J.D. in Saving Silverman. Each opportunity, Black has seized the moment to do his own singing. In fact, Black is so neurotic about music that he’s become a living, breathing, sweating rock n’ roll revivalist. In “School of Rock,” we can feel the music lift him up and take hold of his body like a puppet. It fills him with an unquenchable energy and sets his magnetism on fire. Says Finn, “I get up there on the stage and start to sing and people worship me!” And it’s no wonder; this film is the perfect vehicle for Black to showcase his love for music. As devoted to rock as he is, he embodies the spirit of the music in exaggerated form from the facial expressions and tongue wagging to the hip thrusting and finger pointing. It’s hysterical, like listening to the whimsy and cheeky renditions of his own band, Tenacious D, the equivalent of Queen on steroids.

Written and starring Mike White, also responsible for last year’s indie hit The Good Girl, “School of Rock” is a refreshing film about a quirky outcast who becomes an inspiration for a group of kids in need of creativity and imagination. Intentional or not, he inspires them just as much as they inspire him. Much like “The Good Girl,” in which Jennifer Aniston’s Justine is rejuvenated and inspired by her relationship with a younger coworker, Jack Black is invigorated in his relationship with the kids. Both characters grow because each realizes they are comfortable with who they are, that they do not need to change, and that life is good as is. In particular, Dewey ultimately realizes that he may not be that good of a musician. And it is this realization that opens the door for many other possibilities.

The film is enjoyable because it treats its subject matter with respect and a high degree of seriousness. There are no stupid jokes or innuendos inserted to garner laughs; rather, the humor is extracted out of the characters and situations they’re in. For instance, when Dewey asks the class if they know what a hangover is, the resulting answers are only hysterical because he truly has one.
The only complaint I have is that the film is blatantly one-dimensional. Dewey uses the kids to fulfill his personal ambitions and in real life Jack uses this film to exploit his own musical endeavors. The scene in which he snoops on the youngsters during music class is the perfect example. He hovers over a windowed door and we see his eyes flutter with curiosity, his eyebrows shifting pensively as he deduces the perfect scheme. Sure, the kids are talented and charming and Black’s interaction with them is priceless, but for the most part, they fall into stereotypical foibles. There’s the pianist who doesn’t think he’s cool, there’s the rebellious drummer, the sassy band manager, the self conscious back up singer, the troubled lead guitarist, and the effeminate costume designer. Though the kids are wonderfully talented, they are mere background vocals for Black’s shenanigans.

“School of Rock” is an amusing family comedy with an original premise and a simplified plot. And it’s made fun because Jack Black pours his heart and soul into it so much that it rubs off on you. As a true rock n’ roller, Black puts on a great show, one that makes you realize if there is anyone who can lead a rock revolution, he’s the man. With all the boy bands and generic pop music, samplings and remakes, tired old grunge and washed out alternatives, it’s time for a new sound to melt your face – a return to good o’l fashioned rock n’ roll. It’s time to get “Back in Black” and start stickin’ it to “The Man!”

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