erasing clouds

Raising the Goblet to Rock: School of Rock

by dan heaton

Lovers of "the rock" often find it impossible to explain its allure to their less enthusiastic adult pals. Why do we devote so much time to such a trivial hobby? How can the transcendent effect of an amazing live show be put into words for the unconverted masses? Dewey Finn (Jack Black) is an extreme version of a rock fanatic who "serves society by rocking" and focuses his entire life on reaching the musical peak. "One great rock show can change the world," he claims, and this goal overwhelms typical concerns like paying the rent.

Unfortunately, his fellow band mates do not share his singular enthusiasm for the product. Dewey embarrasses them with his silly guitar solos and impromptu stage dives, which sometimes send him crashing down onto the floor. His roommate Ned Schneebly (screenwriter Mike White) faces constant pressure from his nagging girlfriend (Sarah Silverman) to kick Dewey out of the apartment. It seems that the dream of winning the "Battle of the Bands" and attaining greatness may not work out for this lovable loser.

School of Rock depicts a fervent dedication to rockin' through a unique avenue, a charming kids movie. White (The Good Girl) takes Black's kinetic energy and places him with a group of surprisingly believable 10-year-olds. The central plot begins when Dewey impersonates his roommate and takes a substitute teacher position at a highly regarded prep school. He grinds his way through the first few days, even telling the kids to take recess due to his hangover. However, when Dewey notices the musical talents of his class, a ridiculous plan begins to develop. These kids could win the "Battle of the Bands!" While the premise appears formulaic and could lead to dull comedy, White and director Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise) ensure that the material works nearly perfectly.

Many of the funniest moments showcase Dewey teaching the kids the basics of rockin'. His shock at their lack of music knowledge ("You've never gotten your Led out?") provides a classic scene. The students watch videos of Plant, Townshend, and Hendrix to develop all the right moves. Instructing the stiff guitar player on the moves, he tells the boy to "raise that goblet of rock!" The kids without musical talent are chosen for security, roadies, and groupies, completing the essence of any good rock tour.

Since his breakthrough role in High Fidelity, Jake Black has appeared in several less-than-stellar comedies but still provided memorable performances. This star-making character is bound to propel his career towards the next echelon. Viewers who dislike his over-the-top persona will probably hate this picture because he basically inhabits every scene. Luckily, Black interacts smoothly with a group of excellent child actors who avoid the groan-inducing pandering often prevalent in family films. They still induce plenty of smiles and often act much more adult than their teacher. Standouts include Miranda Cosgrove as the overachieving band manager, Joey Gaydos as the timid guitarist, and Maryam Hassan as the shy singer with a super-power voice.

Linklater initially seems like an odd choice to direct this mainstream comedy, but it actually does correspond with his past works. Dazed and Confused basically showed us stereotypes from a '70s high school, but his obvious caring for the characters and the enjoyable pace make it a joyous experience. It also captures just the right musical atmosphere for the period, which relates to this picture's success. Before Sunrise is a dialogue-heavy romantic comedy, but its interesting leads do share a bond with the idealistic Dewey and the kids. Some critics have labeled Linklater a commercial sellout for taking the picture, but it's not a huge stretch for him. White's sharp dialogue also connects with the humor of many of the director's films.

School of Rock does not completely avoid the formula and includes the usual uptight principal, grumpy parents, and basic student roles. However, its infectious energy and abundance of hilarious moments easily overcome these minor pratfalls. The events predictably culminate in the "Battle of the Bands," which rarely feels hokey and showcases the exciting allure of rock music. Few mainstream comedies have achieved this level of pure enjoyment in recent memory.

Issue 16, October 2003

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