“God of Rock, thank you for this chance to kick ass. We are your humble servants. Please give us the power to blow people’s minds with our high voltage rock. In your name we pray, Amen.”
In School of Rock (2003), the manic Jack Black applies his rubber legs, dancing eyes, and devious grin to the role of Dewey, a narcissistic rock god wannabe who poses as a substitute teacher and turns a class of overachieving, emotionally repressed fifth graders into a rock and roll band.
The script by Mike White (The White Lotus) hits all the expected notes, from the chorus of life lessons learned by both the terminally irresponsible Dewey and his oppressed fifth grade charges right to the upbeat fade-out. But director Richard Linklater powers the film with the energy and attitude and beat of his soundtrack. You can feel the charge that Dewey gets as his passion grabs these kids. At times it’s as if Black himself operates on their emotional wavelength: a big kid reminding these stressed out children what it’s like to play.
While there really was a kind of school of rock in Philadelphia (named the Paul Green School of Music), this film is, like most high concept comedies of this ilk, pure fantasy. But for every scene of Dewey cheerleading a kid out of self-censorship or shyness, there is a moment where the mere act of thrashing out a rock song becomes a shout of defiance from an otherwise voiceless kid.
This is rock and roll rebellion with a small “r”, but Linklater powers the film with the energy and attitude and beat of his soundtrack and his cast plays it for real.
Joan Cusack plays the brittle, tightly wound principal, Mike White costars as Dewey’s buddy, and Miranda Cosgrove leads the cast of kids that includes Robert Tsai, Joey Gaydos, Kevin Clark, and Maryam Hassan.
It was later turned into a short-lived TV show and a Broadway musical. The true story behind the fiction is told in the documentary Rock School (2005).
Rated PG-13 but fine for teens, tweens, and even younger kids.
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The special edition features two commentary tracks (one by actor Jack Black and director Richard Linklater, the other by the kid co-stars), a making-of featurettes, two video diaries, Jack Black’s pitch to Led Zeppelin (a filmed plea to use one of their songs in the film), and a music video among the supplements.