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Nik Huggins

Published February 6th, 2004 | by Nik Huggins

School of Rock Review

Classification: 12 Director: Richard Linklater Rating: 4/5

American independent filmmaker Richard Linklater has taken a sidestep into the mainstream with School of Rock, a musical comedy with more power chords than Jimmy Page.

After being kicked out of his garage rock band following the latest of many riotous guitar solos, wannabe axe legend Dewey Finn (the incomparable Jack Black) must find a way, in the words of Neil Young, to make it pay. Freeloading in his best friend Ned’s spare room and incurring the constant fury of Ned’s fiancé, Patti (Sarah Silverman), Dewey is desperate to find a way to put a new band together who will rock hard and stick it to “The Man” at every given opportunity.

Teaching impressionable kids may not seem like the most obvious solution, but masquerading as recognised supply teacher Ned (played by the film’s screenwriter Mike White), Dewey sees his chance to make some money for next to nothing; morality doesn’t come into it when the future of rock’n’roll is at stake. Of course his less than textbook predilection for putting his feet up all the day whilst the kids beg for learning is soon broken down when he discovers that some kids have a talent for a tune. Suddenly Dewey’s enthusiasm for his day job knows no bounds; spotting a novel way to put a band together he devises his own unorthodox curriculum, replacing the core subjects with a schedule based around rock: (“Rock appreciation, Rock history”…), with homework consisting of listening to CD’s from Dewey’s collection. With the monster rock confrontation that is the local battle of the bands contest looming ever closer Dewey needs to get his fifth graders skills to match his own axe-wielding ambitions.

Black delegates everything a successful rock band needs, from lead guitarist to light show engineer, amongst his classroom. He picks those with musical talent to “lift up their goblets of rock”, and those who can’t to help out on the sidelines (the band even has security guards and groupies). The potential for clumsily portrayed “kids issues” exists but is kept to the minimum and largely sacrificed at the altar of great ensemble comedy, as the repartee between Black and his students flourishes. There’s a definite feel good element to the film, rising out of Black’s relationship with the kids which begins with not-so-subtle manipulation and ends with genuine affection.

Black ricochets wildly around School of Rock, and the pacing of the film facilitates his natural exuberance. The support players provide a cushioning effect to dampen the impact, allowing him something to play off. Joan Cusack chips in a cute cameo as the uptight head mistress Miss Mullins; blinded to Dewey’s masquerade and eager to conceal her own Fleetwood Mac fascinations.

Whether you love School of Rock fully depends on whether you like Jack Black’s unique persona. Being hailed as Black’s proper breakout movie, School of Rock is little more than a vehicle for the man’s ebullient, larger than life talent. The film was conceived with Black in mind (he and screenwriter Mike White are long-standing friends) and he fits into it so snugly, filling up every scene with the verbal equivalent of a 10-minute guitar solo. Fed through such a divisive set of circumstances it becomes unimaginable to think that anyone else could have played the lead role. Not everyone will take to this ultra volatile-ball of energy bounding across the screen loudly and proudly but if you enjoyed his supporting spot as the opinionated record shop assistant Barry in High Fidelity and can contemplate the volume on that character being cranked up a few notches then you’ll want to see the Jack Black one-man-band playing it’s first proper headline gig.

To those of you who are about to rock – I salute you!

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