The School of Rock

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Movie review by Greg Carlson

It’s not like Richard Linklater, the indie auteur that many film geeks worshiped for “Slacker” and “Dazed and Confused” and reviled for “Before Sunrise” and “The Newton Boys,” hasn’t tried to be a commercial success before now – the timing and marketing of his movies for mainstream audiences just wasn’t quite perfect.  That has all changed with “The School of Rock,” a delightful comedy squarely in the right place at the right time.  Written by Mike White (who also appears as an actor in most of his movies, like “Chuck and Buck” and “The Good Girl”) and starring the irrepressible Jack Black, “The School of Rock” manages to transcend its formulaic conventionality in order to, well, rock.

White wrote “The School of Rock” specifically for Black, who will most likely never have another role as tailor-made for his blustery, volcanic persona (honed to perfection in Tenacious D) as Dewey Finn, a tubby, lazy, goof-off kicked out of the rock band he formed because he took one too many extended guitar solos.  Convinced he was put on earth to serve society by rocking, Finn still needs to make rent.  He assumes the identity of his roommate Ned (played by White) and heads off to a prestigious, private, elementary school posing as a substitute teacher.

“The School of Rock” might at this point have become a prosaic, routine time-waster, but Linklater, White, and Black play an ace: the movie takes both rock music and its audience seriously.  Some will chuckle at the notion that “one great rock show can change the world,” but Black shouts it with such conviction you will be hard-pressed to doubt him.  The same goes for the class of 10-year-olds in his charge.  Before you can say “Blitzkrieg Bop,” Dewey has assigned the full range of rock and roll occupations to his talented pupils.

The child actors, most of whom play their own instruments, are as critical to the success of “The School of Rock” as Black.  Reticent keyboard player Lawrence (Robert Tsai), lead guitar player Zack (Joey Gaydos), bass player Katie (Rebecca Brown), drummer Kevin (Kevin Clark), and singer Tomika (Maryam Hassan) may form the core of the group, but Dewey’s limitless imagination finds plenty of room for security, groupies, roadies, lighting techs, and even a stylist.  Miranda Cosgrove, who plays class suck-up and eventual band manager Summer, is particularly memorable.

Linklater’s low-key directorial approach perfectly suits White’s smart slant on the way a group of pre-adolescents would react to a character like Dewey.  “The School of Rock” is virtually gimmick-free, and the transformation of the class from rule-following automatons to full-bore rebellious thrashers is joyous to behold.  In one scene, Dewey builds a cohesive group one power chord at a time; in another, we are treated to a breathless lesson on how a good rock song is born.  Even the detailed flowcharts Dewey chalks on the blackboard are authentic.  Sure, the outcome of the movie is never in doubt, but by the time the clever end credits roll, you’ll be ready to plug in your Flying V and crank up that amp.

This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 10/6/03. 

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