School of Rock (2003)

Posted by on Jan 2, 2012 in Song & Dance | 0 comments

School1

Disclaimer: Some swearing and lewd behavior, but it’s only rock ’n roll (and I like it).

Just as Baz Luhrman managed to make Shakespeare trendy among teens again with Romeo + Juliet in 1996 (a nearly impossible task), the team behind School of Rock refreshingly gave angst-filled youths of today musical perspective in an age when pseudo-punk and emo rock took over. Quite simply, this film placed rock ’n roll back where it belongs – on top – showing kids that the best way to “stick it to the man” is to shred on a guitar and scream lyrics at the top of your lungs.

The idea for the film reportedly came from writer Mike White, who moved into an apartment near Tenacious D frontman Jack Black and often found him running in the hallways naked while blasting classic rock at full volume. In the film, White and Black play former band members and current roommates. While White’s Ned Schneebly has moved on with life and become a substitute teacher, Black’s Dewey Finn has maintained his life of rock by sleeping until the crack of noon, playing 20-minute guitar solos with a miserable bar-hopping band, and stage diving when there’s no one there to catch him. Ned’s controlling girlfriend (Sarah Silverman) won’t let him take Dewey’s leeching any longer. And since Dewey gets booted out of the band he founded, he realizes he needs to find a new gig.

Therefore he poses as Ned and School3accepts a substitute teacher’s job at a hoity-toity elementary school. After he hears his fifth-graders playing classical standards, he transforms their semester into a class project called “Rock Band,” which ends with a gig at the Battle of the Bands. The kids become concerned after Dewey throws Latin, English, science, and math to the wayside, but he promises rock “will test your head, your mind, and your brain, too.”

Dewey then assigns students to different band tasks, with acoustic strummer Zack Mooneyham (Joey Gaydos Jr.) handling electric guitar, cellist Katie (Rebecca Brown) toting a bass, pianist Lawrence (Robert Tsai) jamming on keys, and angry Freddy (Kevin Alexander Clark) pounding drums. The others become backup singers, roadies/security, lights/fog/visuals, and band-worshipping groupies (who at one point want to name the band Pig Rectum). One groupie, Summer (Miranda Cosgrove), objects to her position so he makes her band manager. Another kid, whom Dewey calls fancypants, is assigned to stylist. Throughout the term, they must hide from overbearing, Stevie Nicks-impersonating Principal Mullins (Joan Cusack) and their parents.

Though the film may sound cheesy and predictable, director Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Waking Life) and White handle the content perfectly, ensuring it speaks to kids and not at them. While most would concentrate on the kids’ journey to mature as rockers, it essentially follows Dewey’s mission to maturity and self-realization. Eventually he finds out what it means to be a role model and teacher as kids look to him for advice. Nerdy Lawrence, for instance, asks to be out of the band because “I’m not cool;” insecure Zack finds it hard to express himself under the pressure of his father; and vocalist Tomika worries about going before an audience due to her weight. Though it could have been preachy or after-school-special-ish, it’s handled with amazing maturity and leads to rewarding results.

The pivotal role of Dewey Finn is by far Black’s best performance, which led to a Golden Globe nomination, as it blends spot-on comedic timing and a musical passion that mirrors his own life (he also played a rewarding bit part in High Fidelity). But in a film about rock, the music is the real star as it boasts a fantastic soundtrack with The Who, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, The Doors, and Black Sabbath, plus some rockin’ original songs from the kids, who jaw-droppingly sing for themselves and play their own instruments. The climactic Battle of the Bands, which concludes the film, sends shivers down my spine every time those kids take the stage and rock in front of a crowd of more than 1,000 people, including their hostile parents and angered principal. School of Rock, quite simply, rocks.

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