The School of Rock
June 14, 2002
Starring: Jack Black, Mike White, Joan Cusack, Sarah Silverman, Joey Gaydos Jr., Miranda Cosgrove, Kevin Alexander Clark, Robert Tsai, Maryam Hassan, Rebecca Brown, Caitlin Hale, Aleisha Allen, Brian Falduto, Zachary Infante, James Hosey, ,
They say that the two things you should never work with on a movie are animals and children. They are notoriously difficult to deal with and invariably end up stealing every scene. Jack Black, star of raunchy comedies, like Orange County (2002), is not the first person you’d think of to headline a kid’s film backed by a Hollywood studio. It’s even stranger that said film is directed by Richard Linklater, known primarily for making acclaimed independent films like Slacker (1991) and Waking Life (2001). Added into the mix is a script written by Mike White, who is responsible for provocative films, like Chuck and Buck (2000) and The Good Girl (2002). And yet all of these diverse elements combine to produce School of Rock (2003), one of the funniest and most entertaining comedies to come out of a major studio in a long time.
Dewey Finn (Black) is a hard rockin’ guitarist for a lousy rock ‘n’ roll band. He dreams of winning a battle of the bands contest and creating music that will change the world. He’s also on the verge of getting kicked out of his apartment by his roommate, Ned (White), and his girlfriend (Silverman), for not pulling his weight with the rent. To add insult to injury, Dewey’s bandmates kick him out and it is at this point that he hits rock bottom.
One day, Dewey answers the phone and accepts a substitute teaching job at an affluent prep school that was originally intended for his roommate. He ends up teaching an elementary class of kids. Naturally, Dewey’s unorthodox style of teaching (his first decision is to have recess for the rest of the day) clashes with the school’s strict, straight-laced principal (Cusack). He sees his class taking boring classical music lessons and decides to transform them into a kick-ass rock ‘n’ roll band in time for the battle of the bands contest. He starts with teaching them the fundamentals of rock history and rock appreciation by getting them to listen to The Doors, Black Sabbath, AC-DC, and, of course, the Gods of Rock, Led Zeppelin. Think Almost Famous (2000) meets Dead Poets Society (1989) with a dash of The Bad News Bears (1976) thrown in for good measure.
On paper, this film should not be as good and entertaining as it turns out to be. Richard Linklater seems an unlikely choice to direct such a mainstream, formulaic picture. This is the same director who made Dazed and Confused (1993) that featured a killer soundtrack of classic rock music. Mike White also seems an odd choice to write a kids film, however, this is the same guy who wrote the underrated college comedy, Orange County. Together, they make this film interesting to watch for both kids and adults. Linklater is able to reign Jack Black in when needed and White writes a comedy that refuses to dumb itself down to the level of stupid toilet humour—something that plagues so many recent examples of the genre (Eurotrip and its ilk).
Jack Black’s Dewey Finn is basically a variation on the memorable characters he played in High Fidelity (2000) and Orange County but with a notable exception—Dewey is not really a slacker but a man on a mission. He must inspire his class to realize their potential and his dreams. Black is perfectly cast as a dreamer with an irrepressible idealistic streak. It’s a role that feels tailor-made for his particular talents. Not only does he get to cut loose with a lot of physical humour (he uses his incredibly animated facial features very effectively) but this role also allows him to showcase his real-life musical chops (he is in the band Tenacious D). Dewey is not the typical brain-dead metalhead. He can actually read music and is passionate and knowledgeable about music. It is these qualities that set him apart from the same kinds of characters in other movies.
Jack Black and Richard Linklater contribute a spirited and informative commentary track. Linklater points out that the first shot of the opening credits was a homage to Kenneth Anger’s cult film, Scorpio Rising (1964). Black admits that he was afraid that Linklater would restrain him too much. They both agree that they wanted to avoid the annoying cuteness factor that is associated with these kinds of movies. This is a really funny commentary track as Linklater and Black play well off each other, talking and joking in a relaxed manner. This is most definitely a must-listen for fans of both men. This is the first time either one has done a commentary.
There is a commentary track by the kids in the band. It comes across as a little chaotic because of the number of participants but they all seem to be having a blast watching the film together and talking about their experiences working with Jack Black on a big time Hollywood movie.
“MTV’s Diary of Jack Black” is a promotional bit that follows Black around for a typically frenetic day as he gets ready to make the movie. Fortunately, he knows it’s all promotional BS and hams it up appropriately.
“Lessons Learned in School of Rock” is a making of featurette. It examines the challenge the filmmakers faced finding just the right kids for the band—ones that could not only really play their instruments but act as well. There is even footage of Jack Black and the kids recording music for the movie at Sonic Youth’s studio with Jim O’Rourke. The movie gets instant cool points for having musicians like O’Rourke and the Von Bodies on board to help out.
One of the best extras on the disc is “Jack Black’s Pitch to Led Zeppelin.” Black wanted to have “The Immigrant Song” in the movie but Led Zep has a reputation of rarely allowing their music to be used. So, Linklater suggested Black film an open plea to the band, asking them permission to use the song. He begs for it in front of a crowd of hundreds of people that comes off as funny and sincere.
Also included is a music video for the title song from the movie that reunites Black with his bandmates. It’s an amusing clip that is better than the usual movie-related music video.
Finally, “Kids’ Video Diary: Toronto Film Festival” follows the kids from the movie around for the day as School of Rock debuts at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival. It’s fun to see the kids attend their first movie premiere and watch them get caught up in all of the excitement of being treated like important celebrities.
While School of Rock deviates little from The Bad News Bears formula—you’ll see the ending coming a mile away—it is really a fun and entertaining ride. You have to love any movie that teaches kids to listen to Led Zeppelin and The Ramones instead of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Paramount has really come through on the DVD and produced an engaging collection of extras that compliment the movie perfectly.