Mark Reviews Movies


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Richard Linklater

Cast: Jack Black, Joan Cusack, Mike White, Sarah Silverman, Miranda Cosgrove, Joey Gaydos, Kevin Clark, Maryam Hassan, Rebecca Brown, Robert Tsai, Caitlin Hale, Aleisha Allen, Brian Falduto, Zachary Infante, James Hosey, Angelo Massagli, Cole Hawkins, Veronica Afflerbach, Jordan-Claire Green

MPAA Rating:  (for some rude humor and drug references)

Running Time: 1:48

Release Date: 10/3/03

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Review by Mark Dujsik

Take a seat, class, because it's time for everyone's favorite subject: More than you ever really wanted or needed to know about Mark. Last time, the topic was my childhood devotion to toy cars in our discussion of Jackass: The Movie, but this time around, my confession will be more pathetic-pathetic than cute-pathetic. At one point, I had delusions of being a rock guitarist. I have, admittedly, had crazier, less promising delusions of grandeur, and years of lessons brought forth from me a pretty decent skill. Reality is a cruel equalizer, though, and for some reason—whether it was my long fingers tripping over each other or my lack of practicing scales—I could never grasp that all important ability to master the guitar solo. Even as recently as a year or so ago, flashes of this adolescent angst fantasy have returned, but I have neither the time nor dedication to join or start a band. My guitar sits by me as I type this. The strings are in desperate need of changing, and the fret-board could definitely use some cleaning. The best compliment I can lay upon School of Rock is that it gives me the urge to get to work on those minor maintenance issues and start playing.

Dewey Finn (Jack Black) is the kind of guy who doesn't let reality interfere with his delusions. Even when his band fires him, he sits idly by, letting the rent pile up. His timid roommate Ned's (Mike White, also the screenwriter) new girlfriend Patty (Sarah Silverman) isn't keen on Dewey loafing around without covering his end of the rent, so it's time to find a job. An easy way out comes after receiving a call from a prep school looking for Ned as a substitute teacher. Dewey decides to impersonate Ned and take the job teaching fifth graders. Because Dewey's years of collected knowledge are focused entirely on rock, he allows the kids day after day of extended recess. That is until Dewey happens upon his class' music lesson and discovers a few prodigies and a new way to get back in the rock game. Under the guise of a top secret class project, Dewey assembles the kids into a rock band based upon their respective strengths. It's of high priority that no one, especially the kids' parents and the school's principal Rosalie Mullins (Joan Cusack), finds out. If all goes according to plan, the band will perform in the local Battle of the Bands competition, and Dewey will have his chance in the spotlight again.

What follows is about as familiar a formula as formulas come. There's the obligatory montage sequence in which the kids practice their respective jobs and learn while watching videos of famous rock stars. Dewey has to make up amusing stories and teaching theories on the fly to keep the other faculty from suspecting him. The fate of the plan hangs in the balance late in the game. All of the parents show up at the final concert and find themselves more involved than they would have imagined. And, of course, Dewey learns as much—if not more—from the kids as they do from him. You know what, though? I don't care. Director Richard Linklater has assembled a funny, sweet, and subversively anarchistic, blatantly antiauthoritarian little confection that never once loses its charm. Screenwriter Mike White indulges in the clichés but also tinkers with them slightly. Joan Cusack's principal isn't just the tough-minded authority figure who needs to open up; it's clear that she actually wants to. There's a scene where Dewey takes her out for a beer, plays some Stevie Nicks, and convinces her to try to make an exception on the school's field trip policy so he can take his class to a "classical music concert," which is coincidentally scheduled at the same time as the Battle of the Bands.

Cusack's comic work here is skillful as usual, and she also manages to convey the idea that this is probably the last job Rosalie wants anymore. On other fronts of the performance level, the child actors are natural and Linklater never allows them to fall into trap of reliance on the "cute factor." Instead, all of the kids play their own instruments and do their own singing, which lends a much appreciated level of authenticity that further leads to admiration and maybe a little jealousy. The film belongs entirely to Jack Black, though. If you blink when he's on screen, you run the risk of missing something. Black is alive every moment of the film, always in the midst of some physical shtick. Black takes chances here, and he takes a huge chance simply by filling his performance with so much.  It's a completely fearless comic performance with a wholly infectious energy. Black also has a convincing, unaffected rapport with the kids of the cast. He shines in a series of little gems of scenes, like Dewey's impromptu math song and his making a bad situation even worse by the saying the absolute worst thing you can say at parents' night.

I again do not understand the MPAA ratings board, which has seen fit to penalize School of Rock with a PG-13 rating, despite the fact that there is nothing here that, from my point of view, is inappropriate for children under thirteen. Let's forget about that useless entity for a moment, because more importantly, the film gave me the feeling of vicariously living out my teenage dreams, which is a good thing, since, realistically, I probably won't be changing those strings for a few months. Oh, to be a slacker.

Copyright © 2003 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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