06 December 2011



2003/ Director: Richard Linklater/ Writer: Mike White

Cast: Jack Black,  , Mike White, Adam Pascal,  Frank Whaley

I love a good comedy film and this one is a great one, which I shall expound on further soon enough. I can be really picky abut comedies and find most modern comedies really lacking. Along with being a genuinely funny film it is also more of a popular and financially successful film than most of the selections I pander, which typically tend to be rather obscure films for one reason or another. For example, perhaps they are great films, like The Servant or The Collector, but cater to a more selective audience. Or maybe they are just bad films and cater to hardly anyone but people like me who have a streak of masochism in them. I would bet that most readers of the Café have heard of School of Rock (or The School of Rock as it is sometimes listed) whether they have seen it or not. Another thing that sits this film apart is that it falls into a unique category (maybe I should create one with this title) of films I have seen more than ten times.

There is a reason for this I should explain. Because I was an evil man in my past life and I must work out my bad karma in this one while I still have time I am now teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) in China. When there is a day when I just cannot bear to listen to my lazy ass students I (like any other poor soul trapped in a similar situation) I fall back on the mutli-media learning center or, room with the DVD player and projector as it  should be called. One has to be selective about what they show of course and two movies I love to show the most is Eight Legged Freaks and School of Rock, with The Incredibles coming in third. Those films will wind up on the Café in due time. For now we take al ook at one of my very favorites films of all friggin’ time… School of Rock.

The film is directed by Texas native Richard Linklater (Slacker, Dazed and Confused, A Scanner Darkly) and written by Mike. It was written with Jack Black in mind as the lead character, Dewey Finn. Dewey is basically a loser with minimal talent but high in the sky rock-n-roll aspirations. He comes from the old school of rock music when the scene was dominated by the likes of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, AC/DC, The Who and all the other truly great bands. His taste is impeccable, but it is his marginal talent and ego-centric attitude that gets him booted from his band No Vacancy. This puts Dewey in a pickle since he was counting on winning this year’s battle of bands and using the cash to sort out his life. Among life’s pressures is the fact he is behind in rent to his roommate and former bandmate (from the Goth band Maggot Death) Ned Sneebly-played by Mike White-and Ned’s overbearing girlfriend Patty, who would like nothing better than for dewey to hit the road, whether he catches up his back rent or not. With his back against the wall Dewey takes on a substitute teaching job meant for the now responsible Ned at the number one private elementary prep school in the state, Horace Green Elementary. He is greeted by the high strung Ms. Mullins-played deftly by Joan Cusack- and is introduced to his class, a collection of serious students all with eyes on ivy league colleges and gold stars on the performance chart. The chart is ripped to shreds by Dewey who exclaims “What kind of school is this!” and he proceeds to assign recess to the class while he watches the clock tick away.

Things change when Dewey discover a lot of the class are talented musicians and his sites are set once again on the battle of the bands and the $20,000 prize. He gets his gear from his beat up old van and Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love plays as he runs down the hall and prepares to introduce the students to new class project… a live rock and roll show that all schools will competing in and will land the winners a recommendation on their permanent records. The kids are all perfect comedic foils for Jack Black to play off of. Summer Hathaway is the class “factotor” who is as serious a student as there is and has no intention of being a groupie for Dewey’s project and is promoted to band manager. Zach is the talented but melancholy leader guitarist who is has some home problems with his over controlling father. Lawrence (Larry) is a shy, insecure Asian kid who plays hot keyboards and is assured by Dewey that he way is cool and will be the “bee’s knees” onstage. Katie, called Posh Spice in a great scene, is the steady playing bassist who Dewey teaches to show a pouty face. On drums is class rebel Freddy Jones (“Spazzy Magee”) who struggles with his instrument but is soon study Keith Moon, Buddy Rich and Ed Shaughnessy. Other classmates include the swishy “Mr Fancy Pants” Billy who designs some snazzy glam rock outfits for the band that send Dewey into a fit, Tomika, an insecure over weight girl who belts out Aretha Franklin tunes, and a collection of back up singers and security personnel that collectively have a perfect and rare film chemistry.

Needless to say there are hurdles galore with trying to set up the gig with Ms Mullins and the show organizer (Frank Whaley) but in the end they get the chance to play. Ina classic scene they celebrate their enthusiasm while Led Zeppelin’s The Immigrant Song blares over Dewey’s van speaker. Jack Black actually begged the surviving band members to use the song. It was a difficult task  given the band’s  reputation for not allowing their songs or logos to be used to benefit someone else’s commercial undertakings. You can see a clip of Black begging Jimmy, Robert and John Paul on Youtube here.

Jack Black begs Led Zep members to use The Immigrant Song 

It is uncovered of course that Dewey is not a teacher and has been pretending to be Ned all along after Patty rats him out and even calls the cops on him. But is a scene “…that is so punk” the kids get the school bus to take them to the Mozart concert field trip and pick up a despondent and beaten down Dewey who gets out of his bed and goes out to do the only thing he can do… rock. He admits that Zach is the better player and song writer and they play Zach’s song School of Rock, rather than Dewey’s epic Legend of the Rent. They lose out to his old band of posers No Vacancy and again Dewey is shattered, but the kids remind rock is not about winning or losing but about putting on one great show, which they did. The movie wraps up the dissatisfied audience chanting “School of Rock…” and they return for an encore of AC/CD’s It’s a Long Way To The Top If You Wanna Rock-n-Roll. The humor continues as the credits roll and when it is all over it is a movie I could easily sit and watch again in a day or two if I had a hankering.

I really am not sure why I do not tire of this film. On one level it is really a formula film. The characters are stereotyped and the storyline is predictable even before you watch the movie. Losers or outcasts find themselves by the end of the movie by being true to their dreams and doing the best that they can. Everyone’s self esteem is bolstered after performing the song they worked so hard at and against the wishes of everyone else in the film. There is not a bad word in the film nor any sexual situations or violence. It is good clean fun and whenever I play it for my students here it is received with enthusiasm. They laugh at all the funny parts (remember that English is not their native language) and get the moral of the story, whatever that may ultimately be. I avoided this movie for a couple years because I just did not think I would like it. The picture of Jack Black with a Gibson SG surrounded by little kids just reeked of corny formula. And on one level it is just that, but it is so well done and so enjoyable I can only say if you have not seen it yet please run out and get it. It is one worth owning. Much more likable than Black’s other rock-n-roll movie Tenacious D.


Jon T said...

Great review, Bill. This movie is always on TV in Britain and I have seen it a million times (not always all the way through, but in bits). Jack Black's performance never ceases to amaze. Is Dewey a good teacher or a bad one? Discuss.

Chuck Wells said...

I feel your pain on this flick, having watched it a few times myself. I also like Black's work in "Shallow Hal" quite a bit!

Bill D. Courtney said...

Jon and Chuck

thanks for the comments. Was Dewey a good teacher? I just had a discussion yesterday in one of my classes on this. The students agree, as do I, that in terms of teaching information Dewey was a flop. He was also a bit of a cheat and liar at the first part of the film, opening the discussion to "what did Dewey learn himself" by the film's end.

My students here in China feel they have enough enough "practical" education but that what they saw in Dewey was someone who found all the kid's special talents and developed them (after exploiting them in the beginning). He boosted their individuality and helped them stand up a bit to authority, while in the process becoming a bit of an authority figure himself to them.

He was a certain kind of good teacher we all agree, but not for math obviously :)

Post a Comment

If you have something supportive and cool to say share it and thanks in advance. And if you some sort of weird insult or put down you want to toss at me share it too. But I won't publish it because I have that power mortal.