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The first thing I did when I walked out of the theater after seeing THE SCHOOL OF ROCK (well, besides standing in line to use a urinal, but that's a given) was look for the movie poster to find out what the movie was rated. When that didn't provide me an answer, I checked my ticket stub, which showed a PG-13 rating in big bold black print. I looked at it cock-eyed, and then asked myself why.
Because there's not a goddamn reason for SCHOOL OF ROCK to be rated PG-13. Sure, with my blasphemous term in the last sentence, this review would gladly be handed a higher rating than than that by the MPAA (if in fact they were to do that sort of thing to movie reviews, but work with me here); but the harshest thing that actually happens in this movie is a few Jack Black pelvic thrusts and some kids saying they're going to "kick some ass". Because, for all of the comic guise that it hides itself under, SCHOOL OF ROCK is a friggin' family film. One that Steve Guttenburg or The Olsen Twins wish they could have made.
This marks the third film mentioned was going to suck in my Fall Preview that has seen a review here, and surprise, it's the third of those that's getting a positive review. Now, I can slide on KILL BILL VOL. ONE, because that was all Chad and all us normal folk won't get to see it until next weekend, but I did say I expected THE RUNDOWN and this one to blow. Now, before you go off and blast me for being a shitty prognosticator, please understand my point of view. I'm a master pessimist. It's one of my best traits. You should have seen me earlier tonight, sitting in a bar, being pessimistic about not only the baseball game on the television, but about our score in the trivia game itself. You see, you keep with this mentality, and by default, you can never be disappointed. As a general rule, I apply this in practice to most movies I go to see. The result tends to be that either I'm pleasantly surprised with the final result, or I get lots of fun material to poke fun of when I get back here to write a review and can go in just laughing rather than fuming.
That said, it was definitely a case of the former with THE SCHOOL OF ROCK. In this case though, I had plenty of reason to go in with trepidation. I mean, as much as I like Jack Black, as many dozens of times as I've listened to my Tenacious D CD in the last month or so, I'd pretty muich resigned myself to the idea that he wasn't ever going to be a leading man. I love the guy in HIGH FIDELITY, I liked his smaller roles in stuff like BOB ROBERTS and MARS ATTACKS!, but I'd also seen stuff built around him such as SHALLOW HAL, SAVING SILVERMAN, and ORANGE COUNTY. None were really worth mentioning too much. I mean, he tried his best, but the material just didn't lend much to work with. I'm certainly glad to see Black back with his full chubb on, however; because that skinny look he was sporting for a while was just kind of creepy.
And then there's Richard Linklater. I'd given up on Dick around the time that he decided he was going to start making movies that didn't take place within a 24-hour time span. I liked that gimmick, and then he had to go off and make THE NEWTON BOYS, which by the way joins the illustrious Cure for Insomnia Club alongside RUSH, PI, and JUST MARRIED on a short list of movies that actually put me to sleep. This is the first film I've seen of his since, so I can't say I was expecting too much based on that.
Thankfully, I was wrong in my assumption. Hell, it's not like it's the first time or anything, so I wasn't too surprised. I actually found myself with an involuntary smile on my face as the movie reached its final moments rather than the vapid blank stare movies usually generate from me. SCHOOL OF ROCK does a lot of things well, and I think it's one of those rare movies that you can take kids too and still enjoy as an adult. It's too bad it didn't get marketed that way.
For the obligatory pedestrian story synopsis, we take you to the makeshift bedroom where our sleeping, snoring star Dewey Finn is wasting yet another day. This is Black's character, which isn't exactly a big stretch for him as an actor. He thinks his band is going to make it big, but his friend/roommate and his bitchy girlfriend just want him to pay the rent. Of course, his band kicks him out, and all the other musicians in town think he's a loser, so he gets desperate. A phone call intended for his roomie lands Dewey an all-new gig: substitute teaching at a prestigious prep school. After witnessing his students in a music class, Dewey's passion becomes to teach these kids how to rock.
Richard Linklater seems like the last guy to do a formula comedy, considering that this is the guy who did SLACKER, one of the most influential movies of the indie movement. But in this case, the formula works; And really, if you look closely, it strays from the formula in a lot of ways. I was quite worried about Black's humor quotient wearing thin here, but it did just the opposite in this case. First of all, nobody could have played the role here other than Black. I'm sure Mike White, who also wrote THE GOOD GIRL, CHUCK AND BUCK, and ORANGE COUNTY, wrote the script with JB in mind. Black puts that energy that he conveys so well in his musical endeavors as well as in the other roles he's been tailor-made for into the character of Dewey, and in turn makes him a character you can't help but love. It shows in the other characters in the film, all of which seem to be charmed by his efforts as well. And even with all the over-the-top Jack Black moments, He's also reserved enough when he needs to be to keep you from wanting to strangle him by the film's halfway point.
I was very disappointed in the absence of Tenacious D bandmate Kyle Gass, who has appeared in many other films with Black. There was plenty of roles that he could have played here, most obvious of which would be another member of the school's faculty; but I can live without him. The film's other supporting actors do fine on their own. The only adult cast member who's really given much to do is Joan Cusack as the school's principal, and she plays the role as well as you'd expect: tightly wound, but seems liberated by Dewey's influence. The real treat here are this kids. Yes, I said it. For once, a whole bunch of child actors actually lend to the positive end of things in a movie where they're the focal point. Maybe that's because the majority of them aren't actors at all, but were rather hired because of their musical talents (a real quick check shows that of the fifteen actors portaying kids in Dewey's class, only three of them have any experience in film or TV.) So rather than prissing around being little prepubescent divas, you actually have kids who just want to get up there and act like kids. Sure, their performances at times might seem a little wooden. That's part of the charm. When they actually get to the big payoff, a Battle of the Bands (strangely being held in the early afternoon, but that's a whole other quibble), the charisma that is displayed for the first time by these kids will make you smile. At least, it made me smile, which as I said is a real rarity.
Yeah, yeah, I know. I should be more cynical and find things to shoot holes in SCHOOL OF ROCK. After all, that's been my M.O. for the past several years here. But I can't help it. The movie's faults are few and far between, and there's not much that really hurts it in the long run. Everything comes together and makes for a film that's not only suprisingly entertaining to the rock and roll fan in you, but to the soft-hearted child in you.
So as The Who might say, Long Live Rock. It sure beats the pants off of watching yet another unoriginal paint-by-numbers horror flick during this fall season.
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