School Of Rock Review
Dewey Finn (Jack Black) is a rock musician sacked by his own band. Desperately short of cash, he’s staying with his friend Ned Schneebly (Mike White) and his other half, Patty (Sarah Silverman), who resents his being there. One day, the phone rings for Ned, offering him a place as a substitute teacher at an upscale prep school. Dewey answers the phone and takes the job. Starting at the school, Dewey soon abandons the curriculum in favour of his own class project: form a rock band!
Richard Linklater is a leading American independent, in fact maverick, veering between narratively experimental features like Slacker and Waking Life to Eric Rohmeresque mood-pieces like Before Sunrise and its forthcoming sequel Before Sunset. His one previous flirtation with Hollywood, 1998’s The Newton Boys was a flop. So what’s he doing making a mainstream family comedy like this one? A director-for-hire job of work it may well have started out as, but The School of Rock is a delight.
Linklater’s feeling for rock music is not in doubt, as anyone who has seen his earlier feature Dazed and Confused will confirm. But more importantly is the space he gives his talented cast. Jack Black is basically playing a variation on his role in High Fidelity (a film which left me cold, I have to admit). Linklater stands back, often shooting Black full-length through long lenses, letting him do his thing. Also, the characters have shadings. Dewey isn’t always played for easy sympathy, especially near the beginning: this is as much a redemption story as it is a comedy. Joan Cusack’s school principal could very easily be caricatured or two-dimensional, but this talented, often wasted, actress creates a human being. Her scenes with Black are genuinely funny and in places quite funny. The child actors all give good performances, and they are genuinely playing their instruments as well. Credit should also go to Mike White’s script and Rogier Stoffers’s low-key, unglossy camerawork.
The result is a genuine family film, with enough laughs to satisfy the youngsters in the audience, and plenty of musical references to please the ageing rockers sitting next to them. The School of Rock shows that the words “mainstream family comedy” don’t have to preclude taste and intelligence.