School of Rock
After getting kicked out of his band, a hell-raising guitarist impersonates a substitute teacher and turns a class of fifth-grade high-achievers into high-voltage rock 'n' rollers.
Poor Dewey Finn (Jack Black): All this guitarist wants to do is rock 'n' roll, but not even his going-nowhere band can put up with his overly dramatic and ridiculously bad solos, and like Spinal Tap personified, anything that can go wrong for Dewey does. His desperation reaches climactic proportions when his roommate Ned (Michael White) tells him he must start chipping in rent money--or move off of his living room couch. So when the prestigious Horace Green Elementary School calls to offer Ned a substitute teacher position, Dewey pretends to be Ned and accepts the job. When Dewey discovers that his fifth-grade pupils are musically gifted, he preps the kids for the upcoming Battle of the Bands in hopes of realizing his own dreams of winning the competition. He must, however, keep this venture a secret form the school's uptight principal (Joan Cusack), who certainly would not view the project as a proper replacement for math, reading and science. Although we should hate Dewey for impersonating a teacher, trashing the class curriculum and taking advantage of innocent young minds, we don't because something quite sweet happens in the process: Dewey blossoms into a conscientious individual and in the process, gives his students confidence and a sense of themselves.
Black, who was last seen in the teen comedy Orange County, got his first starring role as superficial jerk Hal in the Farrelly brothers' 2001 laugher Shallow Hal. In School of Rock, Black has the same lively confidence his past characters have had, but let's face it; he couldn't have found a more appropos role than that of Dewey Finn. In real life Black is the singer, songwriter and guitarist of the rock/comedy duo Tenacious D, which the comedian describes as the two-headed love child of Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and Molly Hatchet. That explains why Black was able to so perfectly channel his passion for music into the part: When he refers to a guitar pick as a ''goblet of rock,'' it's obvious he truly feels that way. But despite his outlandishly expressive performance and high-energy antics, Black also crafts Dewey's compassionate side, one that ultimately wins the audience over. And it is Black's careful balancing of these two sides--the sweet and the absurd--that nails this performance for him.
Director Richard Linklater, who helmed the coming-of-age comedies Slacker and Dazed and Confused, did so successfully thanks to his dead-on portrayal of indolent high school teens. In School of Rock, Linklater creates characters that are just as earnest, but really focuses on one lone star: Black. Thankfully, the director takes the time to introduce moviegoers to the fifth graders without being overly cute or excessively sappy, as is the way all too often with movies involving preteens. They're not just pivotal in the plot, they're also the way by which Dewey's character finds self-discovery; each of them is grappling with some sort of issue, be it low self-esteem or weight problems, and Dewey's surprise ability to reach out to them without talking down to them transforms him into a caring, responsible person. When one of the kiddie band's backup singers is worried that people will make fun of her weight, Dewey offers his own stout figure as an example: ''Once I get up on stage and start doing my thing, people WORSHIP me because I'm sexy and chubby, man,'' he tells her. The ingenious script was written by Black's co-star White, who penned the Jennifer Aniston sleeper hit The Good Girl, and it not only encourages ''sticking it to The Man,'' but also stresses the importance of bucking conformity and embracing individuality.
School of Rock is rated PG-13 for rude humor and drug references, but both are rather mild and inoffensive. Director Richard Linklater delivers a family film that is hilarious, honest and inherently good-natured that will appeal to moviegoers of all ages.