Review by Dustin Putman
3½ stars out of 4
A love letter to rock music and the driving force to never give up
your dreams, "The School of Rock" is the biggest breath of fresh air
that has happened to mainstream comedies in years. Exuberantly written
by Mike White (2002's "The Good Girl"), directed by Richard Linklater
(2001's "Waking Life"), and acted by everyone involved, it is a joyfully
simple and exceedingly entertaining motion picture that is about as
much unadulterated fun as you are likely to have at the movies all year.
For as long as he can remember, Dewey Finn (Jack Black) has had no
other goal in life than to become a rock-and-roll superstar. When
he is abruptly fired from his band and in desperate need of money,
Dewey finds himself posing as his pussy-whipped roommate Ned Schneebly
(Mike White) and going to work as a fifth grade class's substitute
teacher at Horace Green Prep. Dewey is not much of a teacher in academics,
but when he discovers his students' musical talent, he promptly elects
them as his new band and turns each class into a secret rehearsal
session leading up to a Battle of the Bands competition. In the process,
Dewey finds himself befriending the kids and teaching them the most
valuable lesson of all: to be yourself.
The premise is straightforward and makes no promises of being life-changing,
but "The School of Rock" is an absolute delight from start to finish,
so much so that you hate to see it end. Its running time of just under
two hours flies right by and, amazingly, there isn't a dry spot or failed joke to be had.
The key to the film's success is the marvelously winning bond between
Dewey Finn and the kids, all fifteen of whom are written with such
care and attention to detail that they claim their own individuality.
Jack Black (2001's "Shallow Hal," 2002's "Orange County"), always
very funny and with actual dramatic range and honesty in every role
he takes, is a comedic genius. There is no other actor working today
quite like him, and his freshness and grungy magnetism are a genuine
treat. As he bonds with the kids, there is an affection between them
that jumps off the screen and feels real, undoubtedly because it is.
The children, most of whom are first-time actors, stand as one of
the most all-around natural and likable young ensembles in memory.
Standouts include Miranda Cosgrove as band manager Summer; Joey Gaydos
as lead guitarist Zack; Kevin Clark as drummer Freddy; Rebecca Brown
as bass player Katie; and Brian Falduto as band stylist Billy.
In the sort of sparkling supporting role she is known for giving,
Joan Cusack (1999's "Arlington Road") is perfectly cast as uptight
school principal Rosalie Mullins, whom Dewey encourages to let out
her inner Stevie Nicks. Cusack brings depth and allure to a part that
could have been a throwaway, but isn't. In one delightful scene, Dewey
invites Rosalie out for a drink and she ends up getting lost in Stevie
Nicks' "Edge of Seventeen" on the jukebox. Cusack deserves a supporting
actress Oscar nomination; she is that good.
Last week, a similar motion picture was released called "The Fighting
Temptations," in which Cuba Gooding Jr. led a church choir to victory
at a climactic music competition. It was strictly by-the-numbers,
save for its musical sequences, and the characters were so thinly
drawn as to be practically nonexistent. "The School of Rock," which
ends at the Battle of the Bands contest, one-ups "The Fighting Temptations"
and shows that enormously inferior effort how to do this sort of story
right. Every once in a while a movie comes along that, upon first
glance, has no right to be so utterly charming and just plain great.
"The School of Rock" is such a film, and it earns that right every
step of the way. It is alive, both in its razor-sharp comedy and its
rock-solid music. Don't miss it.
Copyright © 2003 Dustin Putman