[MOVIE REVIEW]No smarmy lessons in ‘School of Rock’

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[MOVIE REVIEW]No smarmy lessons in ‘School of Rock’

Jack Black on technique: “I think of myself as an entertainment arsenal. Like I have my acting bazooka and my music machete. And you don’t know what I’m going to come at you with.”
How about a furious guitar solo, followed by a half-naked swan dive off stage into a sea of adoring fans, who promptly allow him to splat in a sort of mood-deadening anti-climax onto the floor? So we have Jack Black at his Chris Farley-esque best, combining self-deprecation and physical humor with the ultimate rock ’n’ roll fantasy.
Black has been developing a steady cult following as a character actor offering hyperactive portrayals of his favorite anti-hero: a deadbeat amateur rocker who is alarmingly obsessed with (and pointedly opinionated about) the finer points of classic rock.
Already popular as half of the satirical rock band Tenacious D, Mr. Black landed his breakout role in “High Fidelity” (opposite John Cusack) as Barry, the manic know-it-all record store clerk. With his latest endeavor, “The School of Rock,” he has shown that he can successfully take character acting and stretch it out over two hours as a film’s leading man.
Black is Dewey Finn, an unemployed loaf who gets kicked out of his band for being over-eager and owes his roommate (played by Mr. Black’s real-life friend and the film’s writer, Mike White) rent.
Desperate for a bit of cash, Dewey ends up impersonating his roommate to take a substitute teaching position at a stiff private elementary school. Painfully unqualified for the job, Dewey mostly sleeps or declares recess, until he finds that the kids in his fourth-grade class have some musical talent.
In near-textbook family channel fashion, Dewey schemes to turn the kids into bona fide rockers so they can back him up at an upcoming “battle of the bands” competition. The class “band project” develops into a full-time rock curriculum, as Dewey molds the young minds in his charge with web diagrams on the history of rock ’n’ roll and listening assignments for homework.
Pairing Jack Black with kids is probably one of the greatest innovations since the Robert Plant-Jimmy Page coupling. Well, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but a comparison not unbefitting Black. His on-screen rapport with these real-life child prodigies reveals new dimensions to his humor that go beyond even his stitch-inducing sketch comedy.
When posited opposite Mr. White’s character, Dewey’s former bandmate and “satanic sex god”-turned-domestic-pushover Ned Schneebley, Dewey starts to look less like an obnoxious loser and more like a true revolutionary. His philosophy, “No, you’re not hardcore unless you live hardcore,” makes some sense, after all.
The film works because it doesn’t try to do too much. The paradigmatic characters are all there: the uptight headmistress (Joan Cusack), the shy student with an angelic voice, the overbearing parents. But no one is radically transformed, cheesy love interests are left only as suggestions, and there is no unnecessary profundity paid to the idea of an unconventional education.
No, this family film is still very much in the hands of geeky comedians Black and White, but even they leave room for one special lesson: Never give up on The Dream.

The School of Rock
Comedy / English
108 min.
Now showing

by Kirsten Jerch
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