Dewey Finn (Jack Black) aspires to be a great rock legend but he's lazy, conceited and really pissed off the members of his band, so much so that they fire him. He is freeloading on his meek childhood buddy, substitute teacher Ned Sneebly (Mike White), doesn't pay rent and is also pissing off Ned's live in girlfriend, Patty (Sarah Silverman). When she insists that Dewey pay his share of the rent, food and, especially, beer, he knows he has to get a job. He inadvertently takes a call about a teaching job - for Ned, of course - and decides that this just might be a way to make some easy cash in "School of Rock."
Jack Black has always been paired up with material that brings out his wacky demeanor but has, until now, relegated him to goofy sidekick characters. With "School of Rock" he finally gets center stage and, with Mike White's clever script, is able to hold the big screen - with a little help from his diminutive supporting characters. Black's Dewey is a dreamer with high hopes of being a rock sensation but lacks the dedication and cooperation needed to lead his band to win the upcoming Battle of the Bands and earn the fame he dreams of. When he shows up - late again - for rehearsal, the hostility emanating from his band mates is palpable. They fire him on the spot.
Now, with no band, no home and no money, he sponges off of his childhood friend until Ned's girlfriend demands that Dewey pay his share of the rent or get out. Of course, there are no gigs for superstars in the help wanted ads and Finn is at odds about how to make some money. When he takes a job that was meant for Ned, as a substitute teacher at the prestigious private Horace Green Elementary School, Dewey figures he's got it made - sit back, make money and take it easy. That is, until he meets his students.
On his first day on the job he assures the school's principal, Delores Mullins (Joan Cusack), that he is on top of things, enters the classroom, tells the kids to shut up and puts his feet up. But, this class is there to learn and "Mr. Sneebly" has to put up or shut up. When his students head off for their music lesson, Dewey observes them and realizes that this is one talented gang of kids. Then, a seed of an idea is planted and Dewey makes a decision - he is going to draw together his talented wards, form an awesome band and win the upcoming big battle!!
"School of Rock" could have been a routine, Rocky-esque, rags-to-riches tale, with a silly, implausible concept of the wannabe Dewey scheming his way through life and using the cute kids to gain success and fame. But, two things keep this fun little flick more than a cut above the clichéd idea - Jack Black and the musically talented cast of youngsters, playing the instruments themselves, bring things together in an imaginative and clever way.
First and foremost, Black holds the center of this amusing little flick with his terrific comic delivery, physicality (more than once he reminds of John Belushi for his physical humor) and music talent that he developed with his mock rock duo, Tenacious-D. The comic actor wonderfully portrays the scheming, slovenly, always-looking-for-the-easy-way-out Dewey Finn. You have no doubt that he knows his music and has most of what it takes, but not quite enough, to be a star. When Dewey "becomes" Mr. Sneebly, he sees it as an easy way to make money. After all, what does a substitute teacher need to do besides baby-sit a bunch of kids? His wards prove to him that there is a lot that needs to be done. As soon as you see the kids in their music class you can almost smell the smoke of Dewey's conniving little mind cooking up a plan.
The ensemble of talented young kids that make up Mr. Sneebly's class are also a plus. In a smart bit of script writing by Mike White, the kids are all talented but a few are exceptional. So, instead of having everyone a musical genius, the class is broken up into the logical factions of a rock band and its entourage. Some of the kids are to be noted for their instrumental ability with Zach (Joey Gaydos) as the band's lead guitarist and Lawrence (Robert Tsai) as the shy, no-one-can-possibly-think-I'm-cool character that Dewey takes under his wing to prove what cool is. Summer (Miranda Cosgrove) is very amusing as the grade-hungry, ambitious kid who Dewey assigns as the band's, dubbed School of Rock, manager. The rest of the kids are given jobs as backup singers, roadies, security guards and, for one flamboyant youngster, the job of designing costumes. The kids, though mostly non-actors, do a fair enough job all around.
Joan Cusack, as put-upon principal Mullins, lends her experience in putting a human face on a character that could have been just two-dimensional. Dolores, at one point, lets her hair down (after a couple of beers with Dewey) and belts out Stevie Nicks numbers at a bar. Mike White, as Dewey's best friend and the real Mr. Sneebly, is little more than a plot device but Sarah Silverman, as his girlfriend Patty, does a good job in showing the frustration over having a freeloader like Finn invading her space.
White's script does not go where no script has gone before but he uses the well-worn Rocky tale to good effect. Richard Linklater evinces solid performances all around and does well in making the climactic battle of the bands a great deal of fun. Even though Dewey is a scalawag, he is a hero in the end when the kids' parents see how much their children have grown and matured.
"School of Rock" may be built an implausible premise but it is loads fun and is a showcase for Mr. Black. And, the music ain't bad either. I give it a B.
Dewey Finn (Jack Black, "Orange County") is an unemployed wannabe rocker of such little consequence his own band gives him the boot. He lives with former bandmate Ned (Mike White, "The Goodbye Girl") who's gave up the old dream and became a teacher. Ned's shrewish new girlfriend Patty (Sarah Silverman, "Evolution") demands an end to Finn's freeloading so, forced to find a job, he impersonates Ned when Horace Green School calls looking for a substitute. Dewey begins his assignment by giving his class permanent recess but when he observes them in a music class a lightbulb is lit and his homeroom becomes "The School of Rock."
Indie director Richard Linklater ("Waking Life") and screenwriter Mike White ("The Good Girl") go commercial with a vehicle that showcases the talents of star Black. There is absolutely nothing original or surprising about "The School of Rock" but every gear clicks and the manic Black persona throws it into high gear.
Finn, excited by the musicianship he's witnessed, asks his class for their musical influences. Horrified by answers of Christina Aguilera, Puff Daddy and Liza Minelli, he launches into a (truly informative) history of rock 'n roll, including all its genres and subgenres. Soon when he asks the question 'What's rock really about?' 'Stickin' it to the man!' is the shouted response. Playing to his group of braniacs and nerds' strengths, he's living his fantasy as the leader of a band that includes a lead guitarist, drummer, synth player and backup singers supported by a manager, stage manager, roadies, groupies and costumer. He cozies up to the other teachers and gets the dope on Principal Mullins (Joan Cusack, "High Fidelity"), then plays her too. When his fraud is eventually uncovered, his class's momentum will not be denied and they hijack a school bus to compete in the local rock competition that Finn had been prepping them for.
Black, who began his career with rock parody Tenacious D, has the energy of an overgrown hyperactive kid. His utter lack of vanity and fearless capacity for foolishness serve him perfectly here. He channels John Belushi when, while looking in at the kids through a door's window pane, he does a 'wave' from the end of one eyebrow to the other and back again. Casting Black with a bunch of kids was a master stroke and they seem to love working with him. Miranda Cosgrove is the prim gold-starred bossy one who flourishes as the band manager. Robert Tsai is the serious synth player, convinced that he's uncool until Finn shows him otherwise. Kevin Alexander Clark is the confident mini-heartthrob who masters the drums and Joey Gaydos is Zack, the guitar soloist who is inspired to write his own songs.
There are no repercussions for the anti-establishment semester Finn has architected - a coda even provides him with a real job that reunites him with his class. "The School of Rock" is feel good, frivolous entertainment, an air-guitarist's fantasy, but it sure is fun.
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