School of Rock [DVD]
Director : Richard Linklater
Screenplay : Mike White
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2003
Stars : Jack Black (Dewey Finn), Joan Cusack (Rosalie Mullins), Mike White (Ned Schneebly), Sarah Silverman (Patty), Joey Gaydos (Zack), Maryam Hassan (Tomika), Kevin Clark (Kevin), Rebecca Brown (Katie), Robert Tsai (Lawrence), Miranda Cosgrove (Summer Hathaway)
“One great rock show can change the world,” declares Dewey Finn, the slovenly stick-it-to-the-man hero of the crowd-pleasing comedy School of Rock. Played with infectious abandon by Jack Black (Shallow Hal), Dewey is a force to be reckoned with even if he can’t pay his rent and lives by a rockin’-is-life ethos that many would immediately write off as hopelessly juvenile. Yet, the movie works precisely because it’s on Dewey’s side from start to finish. It takes his passion for unadulterated rock’n’roll as a force of change in the world as seriously as he does, and if it had ever condescended to this notion or made fun of it in any way, the whole movie would have collapsed.
School of Rock is a shining example of how good Hollywood comedies can be when the right minds are behind them. In this case, it is a pair of independent voices: The director is Richard Linklater, who exploded on the indie scene in the early ’90s with his Austin, Texas-based youth-in-revolt films Slacker (1991) and Dazed and Confused (1993) and last wowed us with his sublime computer-animated philosophy fest Waking Life (2001). The writer is Mike White, the off-beat scribe behind Chuck & Buck (2000) and The Good Girl (2002), not to mention the animal comedy Orange County (2002), which also starred Jack Black.
Which, of course, brings us to Mr. Black, the foundation on which the movie rests. Black has been acting in movies for more than a decade, although he really made a name for himself as one-half of the hilarious folk-metal duo Tenacious D. The role of Dewey Finn is custom-fitted to Black’s talents because it allows him corral all that anarchic energy and channel it into passion. Dewey’s obsession with the power of rock music is not some misguided case of arrested development, but rather a full-fledged life ethos complete with its own philosophy, theory, and history.
Dewey gets to expound on this to a class full of eager prep-school fifth graders when he assumes the identity of his meek roommate, Ned Schneebly (Mike White), and takes a position as a substitute teacher. Not knowing anything about reading, writing, or ’rthmitec, Dewey uses the classroom as a pulpit from which he can preach to his young pupils about the glory of endless guitar solos, stage dives, power chords, and screeching vocals that proclaim anger at the world. He introduces them to the soul-wrenching and mind-opening intensity of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, The Who, AC/DC, and other rock stalwarts that, in today’s commodified world of MTV, have taken a backseat to prepackaged boy bands, pop princesses, and hip-hop singers with their own clothing lines.
The kids, all of whom are overparented and understimulated, are at first blasé about their new teacher’s take on life and music, but soon they come over to his side, especially once he organizes them into a rock band to compete in a local radio station’s Battle of the Bands competition. In the process, the kids open up, not because they become anarchic miscreants (as conservatives worry rock music does to kids), but because their individual talents are put to use and they see themselves as having an important role in something meaningful. Many of the kids are shy and insecure about various aspects of themselves—the keyboardist Lawrence (Robert Tsai) worries that he’s not “cool” enough to be in a band and the backup singer Tomika (Maryam Hassan) is embarrassed about her weight—but Dewey shows them that attitude can transcend appearance. Rock gods are not made, but rather make themselves.
Any movie about kids is always a dangerous proposition because the tendency of most movies is to make anyone under the age of 10 into cute, cuddly little creatures that in no way reflect the realities of modern childhood. School of Rock treats the kids in Dewey’s class like real kids—they are diverse, interesting, and plagued with all the joys and pitfalls childhood has to offer. The young actors who play them are all accomplished naturals, and their interactions with Black have a comic rhythm all their own.
The basic trajectory of School of Rock is predictable, but that’s not a problem because the journey itself is so hilariously enjoyable. There are a few unexpected bumps along the way, including Dewey’s relationship with the school’s button-down principal, Rosalie Mullins (Joan Cusack), who could have easily turned into a cliché cut-out of prickly authority. Fortunately, Cusack plays Roslaie as a good person who has been forced into being a ramrod disciplinarian. Like the kids over whom she watches so carefully, there’s someone else inside her just waiting to be set free, and Dewey is just the man to do it. That is essentially what School of Rock is about—not just a simplistic paean to classic rock, it is instead a rockin’ hymn to self-assuredness and the power of following your passion, whatever it may be.
|School of rock Special Collector’s Edition DVD|
|Audio|| English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround|
English Dolby 2.0 Surround
French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
|Supplements|| Audio commentary by director Richard Linklater and actor Jack Black|
Audio commentary with the kid actors
“Lessons Learned on School of Rock” featurette
Jack Black’s pitch to Led Zeppelin
“School of Rock” music video
Kids’ Video Diary: Toronto Film Festival
MTV’s “Diary of Jack Black”
Dewey Finn’s History of Rock interactive feature (DVD-ROM)
Original theatrical web site (DVD-ROM)
|Distributor||Paramount Home Video|
|Release Date||March 2, 2004|
|School of Rock is presented in a clean, blemish-free anamorphic widescreen transfer. Colors are bright and lively, flesh tones appear natural, and black levels are solid with good shadow detail (see especially the clever opening credits sequence). The only minor complaint is that there is a bit of softness now and then, but it’s hardly worth complaining about.|
|Some may find the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack a bit lacking, especially for a movie so hellbent on the power of rock’n’roll. To be sure, the classic rock anthems of Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, and others sound pitch perfect in their raw intensity, even though the surround speakers aren’t used quite as much as they could have been. But, in the soundtrack’s defense, classic rock songs originally recorded either in monaural or two-channel stereo often sound wrong when remixed too much in order to take advantage of multiple channels, so it makes sense that the soundtrack is largely front-heavy.|
|The screen-specific audio commentary by director Richard Linklater and star Jack Black is about what you would expect. Black, not surprisingly, spends a lot of the time cutting up, but he and Linklater also have a good rapport and offer some amusing insights into the making of the film (apparently, Mike White was supposed to join them, but he had the flu). A second screen-specific audio commentary by seven of the kids who starred in the movie is a cute idea, but I will imagine most people will turn it off after the first five minutes of 10- and 11-year-olds making comments like “This scene is cool,” “Jack Black is great,” and “My dad has those same sheets on his bed.” No offense to the kids, but they should probably stick to doing what they do best, which is playing music. Much better is their “Kids’ Video Diary,” which follows their activities before, during, and after the film’s premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. “Lessons Learned on School of Rock” is a not quite run-of-the-mill 25-minute making-of featurette that includes lots of behind-the-scenes footage (including some great footage of Jack Black and the kids jamming) and interviews with Black, Mike White, Richard Linklater, music consultant Jim O’Rourke, and several of the kids. “Diary of Jack Black” is a 16-minute program that aired on MTV last fall; it basically follows a day in the life of Jack Black as he plays music with the kids from the movie, tweaks the movie’s sound mix, and works on some new songs with his Tenacious D partner Kyle Gass. One of the real gems on this disc, though, is the three-minute video Black made pleading Led Zeppelin to let them use their “Immigrant Song” in the movie. The bit was recorded during the filming of the big “Battle of the Bands” concert at the end of the movie, so Black has a few hundred people screaming in support. DVD-ROM features include an interactive history of rock music and a complete archive of the original web site, but unfortunately they’re only available to conformist Windows-based users and nonconformist Mac people like myself are, against, left out in the cold. I don’t think Dewey Finn would approve.|
Copyright ©2003, 2004 James Kendrick
All images Copyright ©2004 Paramount Pictures