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The School of Rock (2003)

School of Rock

We dont need no education.

Rating: 3/10

Running Time: 109 minutes

UK Certificate: PG

Richard Linklater is the independent director from Houston whose innovative films have included the brilliantly laidback ensemble desultoriness of ‘Slacker’, the seventies highschool nostalgia of ‘Dazed and Confused’, the cartoon philosophy of ‘Waking Life’ and the intense one-set drama of ‘Tape’. Mike White is the oddball writer/actor whose screenplay for the dark stalker comedy ‘Chuck & Buck’ was quickly followed by the excellent working-class morality piece The Good Girl. Jack Black is the impishly energetic successor to the spirit of John Belushi, and his manic supporting rôles in films like ‘High Fidelity’ and ‘Jesus’ Son’ have threatened to eclipse everything else sharing the screen with him. Bring these three amazing talents together, and you would expect something stupendously quirky, inventive and unhinged. Instead, however, the result of their collaboration is ‘School of Rock’, a shamelessly derivative musical comedy for morons.

Kicked out of his own rock band and desperate for rent money, Dewey Finn (Jack Black) impersonates his friend Ned Schneebly (Mike White) in order to take a high-paying ‘gig’ as a substitute teacher at a private preparatory school under uptight headmistress Rosalie Mullins (Joan Cusack, reunited with Black from ‘High Fidelity’) . Realising that his class is a hotbed of musical talent, he sets about secretly transforming the pupils into a rockgroup and preparing them for the Battle of the Bands, while teaching them to challenge the rigidity of their school and their parents.

‘School of Rock’ is essentially ‘Dead Poets’ Society’ with all the intelligence sucked out of it, leaving an embarrassing mess of poor jokes and mixed messages. Black does his usual over-the-top performance, but with nothing and no-one substantial to play against, looks as though he is nattering madly to himself. Black sings with a fantastic Beefheart snarl, but the songs with his all- kiddy band sound just as you would imagine, and are interminably long.

Full of saccharine sentiments about self-expression and self-esteem, the central point of ‘School of Rock’ purports to be political, involving rock’s power to ‘stick it to the Man’ – but the film undermines its own would-be rebelliousness by failing to specify precisely who ‘the Man’ is. The teachers and parents are the most obvious candidates, but they all turn out to be closet rebels themselves. The root of all evils turns out not to be commercialism, nor the establishment, nor the forces of conservatism, but rather Ned’s vaguely interfering girlfriend Patty (Sarah Silverman). ‘Dude, I’ve been mooching off you for years, and it was never a problem till she came along’, as Dewey complains to his old buddy Ben early in the piece. All along, the Man has really been a woman, and it is to her and to all she represents that Dewey’s rebel without a cause has been opposed. So in the end, in the absence of any real political targets, the film’s anti-authoritarian posturing can be reduced to a more basic misogyny, making its supposed rock-and-roll spirit at best spineless and at worst hateful and reactionary.

Ostensibly ‘School of Rock’ follows Dewey’s comic rise from irresponsible musician to responsible music teacher, but in reality it documents the tragic decline of its director, screenwriter and lead actor from independent rock-and-rollers to Hollywood sell-outs.

It's Got: Wasted talent.

It Needs: Originality, laughs, and some kind of integrity to its politics.


More 'The Great Rock and Roll Swindle' than 'Rock and Roll Highschool', this shameless, laugh-free Jack Black vehicle reveals that it really is a long way to the top if you wanna rock and roll.