BY XAVIER MORALES
School of Rock is one of those unassuming little movies that unexpectedly sucks you in only to take you on the wildest of rides. Halfway through the movie, I found myself giddily asking, “How on earth did we end up here?!” The answer, it turns out, is a simple one: Jack Black. Witty, physically intense, and naturally musical, Black steals the show in this movie about a loser who just wants to keep on rocking to the beat of his own drum-however bad that beat may be.
This movie tells the story of Dewey Finn (Black), a character who can perhaps best be described as a cross between Chris Farley and the lead singer of AC/DC. After being ejected from his own rock band for his inability to be a “serious” guitarist, Dewey finds himself with no job, no prospects, and a roommate who’s too nice to tell him that his share of the rent is past due-again. Unfortunately for Dewey, his roommate’s girlfriend isn’t as much of a pushover, and she makes it abundantly clear to him that he needs to pay the rent or move out.
In a twisted effort to be more like his successful roommate, Dewey takes a job as a 4th grade substitute teacher in the only way he knows how-by stealing his roommate’s name and resume. Soon thereafter, he’s in charge of a classroom full of cynical 4th graders at an uptight private school run by an even more uptight principal (Joan Cusack). When Dewey discovers that his class is musically talented, he does away with the school curriculum and starts teaching them the art of rock and roll. His intention is to win the lucrative “battle of the bands” competition that is fast approaching by using the students as his own band, thereby solving his money problems and reestablishing himself as a viable rocker.
The kids themselves are all great character actors-from the introverted genius to the extroverted know-it-all. Comically, their uptight demeanor is contrasted to Dewey’s lightheartedness, for he seems much more of a kid than they do. As the movie progresses, we see them leaving behind the one-track seriousness of their upbringing that seems so unnatural for kids of their age. As Dewey teaches them how to be rock stars, he also teaches them how to be themselves.
Of course, we’ve all seen countless movies about how you should “be yourself.” But this movie brings a sense of freshness to the table, and it’s all due to Jack Black’s uproariously playful performance. Never before have we seen Black so liberated in a film. We get the sense that director Richard Linklater consciously took a step back to allow Black the freedom to be as crazy and intense as he wanted to be. From the very first scene onwards, Black is the central propelling dynamo of the entire film. We are drawn into Dewey Finn’s idealized vision by the very force of his enthusiasm for rock music, and for the kids in particular.
And so we cheer and jeer along with the characters’ wins and losses. Yet we’re not ashamed to be so emotionally involved with a comedy about rock music, for we also rise above the “seriousness” of our everyday lives, if just for a brief moment. If School of Rock teaches us anything, it’s that fun is thoroughly contagious. As Dewey Finn would say, “Rock on.”