Forget Jack Black, the kids are the real stars of ‘School of Rock’

Jack Black teaches music in 'School of Rock'
Jack Black teaches music in ‘School of Rock’

I have had the displeasure of watching Jack Black through Orange County and Shallow Hal. So when I heard that School of Rock was winning rave reviews from critics, I struggled with indecisiveness. Should I pay $10 a ticket for a film, that despite starring Jack Black, other critics had found riveting? I couldn’t take the risk. Instead, I waited for it to be available on a considerably cheaper format, the DVD rental. I should have waited longer.

In School of Rock, Jack Black plays Dewey Finn, a rockstar wannabe dumped by a band that wants to play the Battle of the Bands competition without him. Spurred by his need for vengeance, Dewey accepts a substituting teaching position only to end up recruiting his class to compete. The students are led to believe they are competing in a secret but prestigious school music contest.

Many disturbing encounters arise in the course of the film, including one where Dewey “kidnaps” the children during school hours and has them lie to get into the “Battle of the Bands” competition. This scene in particular, as a parent, seriously disturbed me. Hopefully, our children are not being taught by teachers who are swindling them. While School of Rock struggled to assert that Dewey was really helping the children out, giving them more confidence, in spite of lying to them, I found myself exceedingly unconvinced.

If anything, School of Rock is a film where kids make the movie. It excels most in the scenes where we find the children gaining confidence because of their newfound appreciation of music. Black is rather insincere throughout the film, especially when feigning interest in the children. At the end of the film, though he is supposed to be genuinely inspired by the children, Dewey seems entirely disinterested.

Joan Cusack is a gem to be discovered in the midst of film that’s slow to start. As the principal of the school, Cusack plays her role to a twitchy, neurotic perfection. By underplaying her character, she both endears herself to the audience and balances Black’s manic overacting. When School of Rock drags along, it is her character that spearheads the film forward.

The music in School of Rock is incredibly catchy. Those who loath rock need not apply. School of Rock is truly a good old-fashioned love letter to rock music. I would have been more enthusiastic if it had not pretended to be a film about believing in children and all of their individual special abilities.

Featurettes abound on the School of Rock DVD and for the most part, they are stellar. You can choose to view the film with commentary by the children in the film or Jack Black with director Richard Linklater. The former involves mostly giggling while the later greets us with a considerably subdued Black. While a music video starring Black and the children is amusing, an MTV diary featurette starring Black is not. A Kids’ Video Diary from the Toronto Film Festival and Dewey Finn’s History of Rock Interactive Feature are very entertaining to view.

To quote rock boys, Puddle of Mudd, very loosely: Jack Black tried too hard and he tore at my feelings like I had none and ripped them away. That’s my story, as you see, I learned my lesson and so should he. Now it’s over and I’m glad, because I’m a fool for renting this movie and realizing, again, that Jack Black is really, really bad.

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