school-of-rockOne of the most difficult things a screenwriter can do is write a clean comedy that is genuinely funny. For those of you with a poor sense of humor who find stupid shit like THE CHIPMUNKS, JACK AND JILL, TWINS, and any Rob Schneider movie funny, my previous statement will make absolutely no sense to you. However, for the rest of us, we can probably count on one hand how many clean comedies we have laughed at (and not just when we were kids, but those films that we continue to find funny today). I think Richard Linklater’s underappreciated SCHOOL OF ROCK is one of those rare keepers. It’s a testament to the talents of director Richard Linklater, writer/co-star Mike White, and Jack Black that a film that features a bunch of kids (always a comedy repellant in my book) and that contains a happy ending with a message to boot is both hilarious and a repeat watcher.

Jack Black was at the height of his career when SCHOOL OF ROCK came out in 2003. His satire rock band, Tenacious D, was heard on every iPod and Black was still enjoying the effects of his notable turn in 2000’s HIGH FIDELITY. SCHOOL OF ROCK was sort of a dream team collection of hot talent that was brought together to guarantee a box office comedy classic. Director Richard Linklater was a respected director who had helmed such indie darlings as SLACKER, DAZED AND CONFUSED, and BEFORE SUNRISE. Screenwriter and co-star Mike White had gained a reputation for his comedic writing skills in the excellent FREAKS AND GEEKS, CHUCK & BUCK, ORANGE COUNTY, and THE GOOD GIRL. Finally, you had producer Scott Rudin, one of the most powerful producers in Hollywood known for putting together acclaimed, critical hits such as A CIVIL ACTION, THE TRUMAN SHOW, and WONDER BOYS.

SCHOOL OF ROCK has a pretty straightforward storyline. Jack Black plays Dewey Finn, a rock singer and guitarist of a garage band who gets kicked out of his band by his band mates. Dewey’s biggest dream is to some day win the Battle of the Bands competition and without a band now, that dream is gone. Dewey lives with his roommate and best friend, Ned Schneebly (Mike White), whose bitch girlfriend Patty (Sarah Silverman) hates Dewey for being a loser without a job and for never being able to pay the rent. One day, while Ned (who is a substitute teacher) is off at work, Dewey receives a phone call from a prep school asking for Ned to come in and fill in for a sick teacher’s fifth-grade class. Seeing an opportunity to make some money to pay the rent, Dewey impersonates Ned’s voice and accepts the offer. At first, Dewey just sees this opportunity to just hang out a few days to watch the class and make some quick money. However, he soon discovers the musical potential in these children and decides to make a rock band to compete in the next Battle of the Bands.

Jack Black has a style of comedy that every studio executive loves. He’s not the type of comedian who is only funny when being dirty (e.g. Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock), he’s not overly philosophic or intellectual (e.g. Dennis Miller), and his brand of comedy translates well cinematically rather than only being appropriate to the stage. Jack Black is like a cross between Robin Williams and the late, great Sam Kinison  – he has Williams’ manic energy and ability to lay a stream of clever lines punctuated with pop cultural and off the wall remarks and Kinison’s anger-fueled rage.

SCHOOL OF ROCK perfectly weaves in Jack Black’s rock music talents into the narrative by making him teach children music and enter them into a rock music contest. Mike White’s comedic writing talents blend so well with Black’s comedy that I find it surprising that they have not collaborated again after this movie. What makes SCHOOL OF ROCK special is not the originality of the story because it really isn’t very original. We have seen a chock full of films about unconventional teachers who inspire their students to achieve (DEAD POETS SOCIETY, DANGEROUS MINDS, MR. HOLLAND’S OPUS). What makes this film stand out is the infectious comedic performance given by Black, the winning performances from the 5th graders, and Joan Cusack’s wonderfully stressed out prep school principal who is bottling in a lot of sexual energy in the form of going crazy whenever she hears Stevie Nicks’ Edge of Seventeen. The film does require you to suspend some disbelief in the fact that Jack Black can get away for so long with teaching his students nothing but music (and not to mention the sheer irresponsibility and selfishness of not teaching his students nothing but music).

SCHOOL OF ROCK has a nice goal to build towards, which is the Battle of the Bands contest. Audiences obviously wanted to see Jack Black rock out in addition to being funny and the film wisely provides this at the very end. Even if you don’t like heavy rock music, its hard to not want to pop in some AC/DC or Black Sabbath after watching this movie. Jack Black’s enthusiasm for the power of rock and roll is infectious and I really believe (or want to believe) that he truly finds this shit transformative.

This film is a great family film despite its PG-13 rating (which I cannot fathom to understand why it received that rating) and it’s a film that doesn’t dumb itself down for the kids’ audience. Its something that both kids and adults can equally enjoy.

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