October 3, 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 21  

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Finally, a School that rocks!

School of Rock

Starring: Jack Black, Joan Cusack, Mike White
Director: Richard Linklater

By Jordan Smith
Gazette Staff

Gazette file photo
BIGGER THAN THE BEATLES. Jack Black teaches his class the A-B-C's of rock 'n' roll in School of Rock.

Jack Black has begun establishing a career playing dumb, fat hipsters. But can he carry a whole film on his back? As School of Rock shows, the answer is an unqualified “yes.”

Having had his breakout role in High Fidelity, Black has shown he can single-handedly rescue terrible movies from their otherwise certain fate of forgettable oblivion. Witness Shallow Hal, Saving Silverman and Orange County, three movies that without Black, would be embarrassing. They still are, but at least there are some laughs thrown in.

Here’s the synopsis: embarrassingly bad rock guitarist Dewey (Black) is kicked out of his band. He intercepts a call intended for his substitute teacher roommate; claiming to be his roommate, Dewey becomes a teacher at an elite elementary private school. Needing to get into a battle of the bands, Dewey turns these rock-ignoramus children into his band. The principal (Cusack) seems to be on his trail as Black teaches the children nothing but rock ’n’ roll. Hilarity ensues.

School of Rock succeeds largely because it cranks up the laughs and turns down the sap. It’s still formulaic: the happy ending is inevitable and there’s a warm, fuzzy message about following your dreams, or something. But because the kids are genuinely likable and Black is honestly enjoying himself, the clichés are bearable.

It’s not all scriptwriting-for-dummies, though. Miraculously, there’s no love story between the uptight principal (Cusack) and the protagonist. The principal is also humanized and dislikes her own stuffiness, going beyond the two-dimensional cutouts of, say, Old School.

But, of course, all comedies rise and fall on the number of laughs they have. And School of Rock has a good number. There is a catch, though: the more the individual audience members know about rock ’n’ roll, the more jokes they will get and the more they will laugh. Much of the humour revolves around poking fun at rock’s Spinal Tap-ish campiness and cheesy theatrics.

Black is obviously tailor-made for this role and New York Times Magazine reports the screenwriter wrote the script with Black in mind. Black’s musical project, Tenacious D, indulges in the same kind of humor: jokes about rockin’ out and getting rocked hard.

The reason this movie also works is because Black does worship rock ’n’ roll, but he also knows how to laugh at it. His sincerity is palpable in every frame and the kids are both good musicians and passable actors.

This movie is for everyone who always knew it’s ONLY rock ’n’ roll, even if you like it. For some of us, though, it just takes longer to figure that out.



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