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School Of Rock

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: School Of Rock

Starring: Jack Black, Mike White
Director: Richard Linklater
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 108 Minutes
Release Date: October 2003
Genres: COmedy, Music

*Also starring: Sarah Silverman, Joan Cusack, Kevin Alexander Clark, Miranda Cosgrove

Review by Harvey Karten
3½ stars out of 4

Richard Linklater's "School of Rock" is the funniest film about the teaching profession since Arthur Hiller's underappreciated "Teachers" which featured Richard Mulligan as a lunatic who is erroneous hired to substitute for a high-school history teacher. What's surprising is that Linklater, who is known for independent, arty fare like "Dazed and Confused," lends his strong directorial hand to a movie that can be both appreciated by adults who want their children to see quality work and enjoyed by a broad community of ages and ethnic groups as well. Jack Black performs in the role of a substitute teacher, Dewey Finn, whom to our everlasting regret none of us ever had for a teacher. In his primary school classroom of adorable ten- year-olds from assorted backgrounds but from families with strong finances, there is never a dull moment as he shows the youngsters how much they can learn if their instructor is the opposite of pretentious, one who never needs to send a kid to the principal for misbehaving because he's giving them what they secretly wanted in a mentor all along.

Oh, it's not that anyone is this classroom is deprived, not by the usual ways we used the word. Each has parents who can afford the $15,000 annual tuition, while all are supportive of their children except in one way: they are rigid, suburban-types with their camel's hair topcoats and well-used brief cases who are sure that the path to self-fulfillment lies in a classical education.

But now it's roll over Beethoven. Time to turn to rock music in much the way that New York's former station of classical music, WNCN-FM, decided that the money and interest lie with contemporary rock.

When Dewey Finn's roommate, Ned Schneebly (scripter Mike White from "Chuck and Buck") is called by Mullins (Joan Cusack), the school principal, and asked to take over a class for a teacher who will be out for weeks with a broken leg, she gets a positive response. The only trouble is that Ned does not answer the phone: The call is taken by the down-and-out rock musician, Dewey Finn (Jack Black), who impersonates his more conservative buddy and takes the job just for the money. After napping in class for the first couple of days, he is challenged to teach something, anything, leading Dewey to toss away the curriculum and to break the youngsters' lock-step mold. Noting that the music teacher is boring his charges by conducting Joachim Rodrigo's "Concierto por Aranjuez," he gradually convinces them to use their training in classical guitar, drums and song and give themselves over to rock.

Art is not reality. In a real school-house the principal would be on to Dewey in minutes and out he'd go. Even more obviously, the parents would note on the first very night of homework that their charges are not doing math, Latin, French and Geography contrary to what Dewey later tells them he is teaching. In the obligatory scene at a competitive rock concert, the older folks take part in the predictable feel-good climax, observing how turned on ten-year-olds are doing what everyone their age would like to do: performing before a large, cheering audience. In that regard, "School of Rock" takes after the equally cheery film "Camp," about a group of young people wholly given over to drama who wow their adults in the end-summer production.

As talented as precocious as these children are, the film belongs to Jack Black who has taken his place overnight as an A-class comedian. Obviously a musician in his own right, he gyrates like an Elvis on speed, mop of hair flying as though caught in hurricane Isabel, his energy at peak level as he forgets his money problems completely while in the zone. He is ably supported by the class, particularly Summer (Marinda Cosgrove), who sits in the first row insisting on learning E=Mc squared, never realizing that true education can be such fun. Robert Tsai dazzles at the keyboard as Lawrence, and Joey Gaydos as Zack the guitarist. Special credit to Joan Cusack, who like the youths of her school is allowed to let her hair down, to go with the Jack-Black flow in a film that leaves the audience laughing energetically at quite a few points and leaving the theater with goofy smiles on their faces.

Copyright 2003 Harvey Karten

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