My Favorite Movies – School of Rock (2003)

27 Apr

By Tanner Smith

When an indie director takes on a mainstream project, two thoughts cross my mind–is the director going to compromise with the studio (because studios often give tough ultimatums and can ruin careers) and/or is the director going to put their all into it rather than treat it simply as a work-for-hire?

Well, Richard Linklater knew he had to branch out from the artistic spotlight at some point–thankfully, writer Mike White, actor Jack Black, and the Paramount studio called him on-board to make their feel-good comedy blockbuster into something more noteworthy.

The result is “School of Rock,” which is a hugely entertaining comedy that managed to overthrow most of its competition in 2003 just because of how much fun it is and even how sweet its tone is.

I loved it at age 11; I still love it to this day.

This actually wasn’t my intro to Jack Black. I caught some of Shallow Hal on cable TV, but before that, I knew Jack Black as the villain from…”The Neverending Story III” (yes, I did watch that thing as a kid). Watching him in “School of Rock,” I recognized just how talented he truly was, carrying a film and taking center-stage and just inviting his audience to share the joy and excitement with him.

In the film, he plays Dewey Finn, a wannabe hardcore rocker who, as the trailer put it, “would have sold his soul for rock n roll…but nobody was buying it.” He’s very certain that his band is going to become successful once they win a big upcoming battle-of-the-bands competition, but the rest of the band sees him as an embarrassment because he’s too extreme in his performances. So, he decides to start his own band…but he needs members to join. He starts to see an opportunity rise when he poses as his roommate (Mike White), who is a substitute teacher, to sub for a prestigious elementary prep school where students are ordered to conform–it turns out many of his students are musically talented, so he decides to use his time prepping the kids for an exclusive class project: “Rock Band.” And so, he gets the kids ready for the competition as he teaches them to lighten up and not worry so hard about following or breaking rules.

If ANYONE at that prep school had done so much as check Dewey for ID, we wouldn’t have a movie, so let’s just move on.

Richard Linklater gets to make a family movie and this just feels the type of family movie he would make. The kids feel real, the numerous conversations about music and how it can reach people feel natural, and Jack Black’s character’s personality of try-hard hardcore (try-hardcore?) rocking is a way of life rather than just a plot gimmick. Even the uptight principal, played wonderfully by Joan Cusack, feels real–in any other movie, she’d be the villain; here, she gets drunk does a Stevie Nicks impression because she’s not such a stick-in-the-mud after all. (This family movie knows the difference between a villain and an antagonist.)

And yes, I call “School of Rock” a “family movie.” This is a great film for both kids and adults to enjoy. There is very little reason for the MPAA to rate this movie PG-13.

The film’s screenwriter was Mike White, who wrote the part specifically for Jack Black after having worked with him on the film “Orange County.” And thank God, because this was the role that gave Jack Black plenty of time to shine after taking hilarious side roles in movies like High Fidelity. (He did have a leading role in “Shallow Hal” before “School of Rock,” but I don’t think that one gave him a lot to work with. This one definitely did.)

Something else I love about this movie is that it takes music seriously. When Dewey is practicing with the kids and teaching them basic lessons in “rock,” he’s able to mold their talents into something they didn’t expect, and in doing so, they find their own artistic flairs and self-expressions. That’s what art does to people, and this movie shows that particular lesson with music.

The song they ultimately perform at the battle-of-the-bands competition is a fun song. (With any music film, you need memorable music to make it work.) And the scene itself stays true to its tone, even when the kids’ angry parents force themselves into the front row…or at least, it stays true to rock-n-roll.

My favorite scene: after Dewey has heard the kids play for music class, he’s gathered all his instruments and immediately puts the kids at work as soon as they return to the classroom. He duels with the guitar player, Zack, who never played electric guitar; he has the piano player, Lawrence, play “Touch Me” by The Doors on keyboard; he teaches the cello player, Katie, to play bass; and…OK, the audition for the drummer, Freddy, is a little weak (just a few taps on the drums and cymbal), but the kid already plays percussion and likes to hit things, so let’s have him learn as he goes. Fair enough.

“School of Rock” is one of those movies where I can’t just watch the movie–I have to watch all the DVD extras too. And there are some GREAT ones, such as the making-of documentary, the kids’ first experience at the film’s premiere, and my personal favorite, an MTV “documentary” about Jack Black’s daily routine (which includes a collab session with his Tenacious D partner, Kyle Gass).

I love this movie. It’s smart, it’s funny, and it rocks.

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