School of Rock

From all initial appearances, School of Rock looks like a pretty standard film, which means that it will probably be pretty dull. Well, it isn't, due primarily to Jack Black, and his unbridled enthusiasm and never-ending energy. Black is what keeps the film moving, and he is having so much fun that everybody else cannot help but feel the same way. Black (Ice Age, Orange County) is slowly turning himself into an unlikely movie star, and School of Rock is probably his best role to date. It helps a lot that he is good friends with Mike White (The Good Girl, Orange County), who wrote the screenplay. White tailored the role to Black's strengths, an encyclopedic knowledge and love of music and manic energy. Then, Richard Linklater (Tape, Waking Life) decided to direct. Comedy, especially traditional comedy, is not something Linklater is known for. If anything, he is known for picking wildly different types of films to make, so in a way, he would get to a comedy after a while.

Black is Dewey Finn, a wannabe rocker who dreams of a success that will never come. His roommate Ned Schneebly (White) is tolerant of Finn's antics and habitually late rent, but Schneebly's new girlfriend Patti (Sarah Silverman, Evolution, Heartbreakers) is putting pressure on Schneebly, a substitute teacher, to get rid of Finn. Finn's current goal is to win a battle of the bands contest for both recognition and money, and when his band kicks him out, he idles away in his apartment doing nothing. So when a preppy private school comes calling for Schneebly's services as a sub, Finn answers the phone and takes the job hoping for a quick buck.

As expected, he is hopelessly unsuited to teaching children. He has no idea how to relate to them, and they are thoroughly baffled by him and his lack of, well, everything. He sits around and stares at them, encouraging them to slack off and give up. Until he hears them practicing their instruments. It turns out these kids can play, and he figures that they can help him win the prize money in the contest. He tells the class that creating a band is their secret project and goes about assigning everybody roles. Now that Finn is doing something he believes in, a whole new side of him emerges. He wants the children to be as enthusiastic about music as he is. He teaches them how to play rock instead of classical, lends them various CDs to listen to, and lectures them on rock history. The students pick up his energy level, and begin warming to his ideas.

Unexpectedly, he begins doing some good things. He teaches them confidence, independence, and instills in them a new fire for music. One girl (Maryam Hassan) feels embarrassed to go on stage because she is fat. Finn tells her that Aretha Franklin is a big woman that everybody wants to party with, and that he himself is a tad large. Finn sees another student's (Joey Gaydos Jr.) father berate him, and he slowly nurtures this kid's sense of well-being back. The funny thing is, he is not doing this purposefully, and has no clue that he is actually doing something for the better. This lazy, corpulent slacker that by all means should probably stay away from children is doing a wealth of good for them.

He also helps the Rosalie Mullins (Joan Cusack, Where the Heart Is, High Fidelity), the uptight principle who loves Stevie Nicks. She really needs to loosen up, and along comes Finn. And of course, just as he helps the kids learn life lessons, they will eventually help him to be responsible. School of Rock doesn't excel because it's original. If anything, Linklater and White follow conventions to a tee. They will eventually discover that Finn is a fraud, leading to some conflict that will also eventually solve itself. What the film does is add a sense of life and zest to the proceedings, making it extremely fun to follow along. Plus, all the kids play their own instruments. This isn't today's manufactured, bland pop music, it is Led Zeppelin, Ted Nugent, The Clash, Black Sabbath, AC/DC, The Who, and other people who genuinely feel passion about their art. Predictable movies aren't necessarily bad. The filmmakers just need to make sure that there is something unique about their film. The element here is Black. He is a joy to watch, and his joy is infectious to everybody else.
Haro Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 48 minutes, Rated PG-13 for some rude humor and drug references.

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