Picturenose is simply delighted to welcome Paul Stump back to our reviewers’ pool, with his take on Richard Linklater‘s School of Rock (2003).
‘Hope I die, before I get old!’ spluttered Roger Daltrey in The Who’s magnificent 1965 single My Generation. But nobody would wish such a fate on anyone, and only the stoniest-hearted churl would wish it on Jack Black, everyone’s favourite chubby comedy slacker, but if said fate did befall him, Black would go to movie heaven, secure in the knowledge that he had enjoyed the rare privilege of playing to the hilt a role that could have been written for him, a feat harder to pull off than it sounds.
With Black’s Dewey Finn dominating this rambunctiously satisfying and naively charming feature it’s hard to think of a more perfect fit of artist to character on the screen since Audrey Tautou first come-hithered as Amélie Poulain.
Finn is a slobbish loser-with-a-heart who turns a classroom of teens into award-winning rockers in School Of Rock, one of the few recent instances in which Hollywood has remembered that old-fashioned charm still exists and its deserved success proved that said property can thus be understood in Hollywoodian bottom-line terms, i.e. takings and openings. School of Rock proved what is still unsayable in the studios – that arses can be put on seats without recourse to megaphonically-amplified infantilism, flagwaving bellicosity, war-machine hardware or ‘The Flag’.
Indeed, it’s hard for this writer to recall any mainstream American cinema product of the past 20 years to which the word ‘charm’ attaches without the caveats of whimsy or nostalgia, and this is perhaps School of Rock’s most winning trick. Best of all, it wins a discerning viewer over without knowing how or why it’s doing it.
Rock ’n’ roll, of course, is almost as Hollywood as the movies themselves, dealing in the same essentially puerile themes, narratives and thought-processes, for good and ill. Not that Jack Black’s Dewey would read it that way; for him, rock is a religious faith where Ted Nugent is Jesus and Alice Cooper John the Baptist; rock for Dewey is more elemental than oxygen or gravity; it is the only comprehensible form of human expression or endeavour; in Dewey, one recalls the attitude of Gene Simmons, leader of shock-rock heavy metal kings Kiss who, when asked about Rob Reiner’s 1984 masterpiece of satire on rock’s mores of OTT braggadocio, This Is Spinal Tap (1984), professed himself sickened at how that masterpiece of a movie traduced (not Simmons’ word) his music, his entire raison d’etre.
But where Simmons was a pampered pro at the pinnacle of his profession, Dewey is a plodding everyman who bluffs his way into a public school to cover the absence of his useless straight-arrow room mate Ned Schneebly (Mike White). Through a mixture of friendly cajoling, matiness and good ol’ American pluck, Dewey chivvies his nonplussed charges into channelling their extremely modest fantasies of rock stardom into becoming a genuine band, and genuine contenders at a local Battle of the Bands contest.
Despite parental consternation, school principal Rosie Mullins (Joan Cusack, brilliant and delectable, a potential Natalie Wood for the new century?) allows him to do just that (the scenes between her and Black have an improbable but tantalizing will-they-won’t-they chemistry which some far-sighted studio could do worse than exploit in another future project).
Yeah, yeah, you’re thinking – so far, so cornball, so let’s-do-the-show-right-here. But the corn is separated from any chaff by Black’s dumbass goofiness and his character’s idiot faith are too engaging to ignore. Of course it all works out; this film is about the machinery of making fantasies come true, after all.
There are some weeny snags; at one point, Dewey says admiringly: ‘That’s so punk rock’ – would such a man exhort a pupil to study Yes’s 1971 prog-rock magnum opus Fragile as ‘homework?’ Any rock fan would doubt it, although the choice of British prog auteurs Yes as a case study in rock-as-academic-pursuit is as smart and satirically informed a one as your reviewer can witness from personal experience.
Paul Stump is the author of The Music’s All that Matters (Harbour Books) and a recognized authority on 1970s popular culture and Progressive Rock.