School of Rock (2003) — Jack Black lite

“Now raise your goblet of rock. It’s a toast to those who rock!”

Justin’s rating: We will, we will, watch you, watch you

Justin’s review: While School Of Rock was okay, it just can’t compare to such classics of rockinema like Crossroads.

Yeah, you caught me, I was just trying to make Clare’s head blow up. We have an office pool on who can do it the most. If you want in, just send me $25 and a list of ten reasons why John Cusack is a grody-head.

School of Rock is a slightly — slightly — original mishmash between the duh-I’m-not-a-teacher-but-I-fell-into-teaching-and-I-found-out-I’m-a-prodigy-at-it, and something else that doesn’t involve an incredible abuse of dash marks. Oh yeah, the “struggling band finally makes it big” genre. There, nothing got hurt, except a couple of quotation marks that were plain asking for it.

Dewey (Jack Black) is a failed musician who ends up faking as a substitute teacher at a prep academy for wee ones. Happily, it doesn’t turn out to be one of those incredulous plots where the guy finds out he’s a perfect, yet unorthodox, teacher who can inspire the kids in ways that normal teachers (the ones who get a degree and all that piddling nonsense) cannot. Nope, Dewey knows nothing and can’t teach… except when it comes to ROCK. Then, he’s that perfect, yet unorthodox teacher who yadda yadda kids find their destiny blah blah everyone is on their feet cheering for them, the end.

Your reception of School of Rock is largely dependent on your liking of Jack Black — he of the band Tenacious D, of such films as High Fidelity and Shallow Hal. He may not be the handsomest guy in his own 10-foot radius, and he may not even be all that accomplished of an actor. But what Jack does have — and what I appreciate — is a certain “everydude” quality about him, that makes you know he’s this chummy, funny and fun to be with in real life.

Here, Black has a blast hamming it up, educating little kids to the legacy of “real” rock while slowly becoming the rock star that he has dreamed of becoming. How does he do this? Just a pinch of fraud and manipulation, and Jack’s transformed an entire grade school class into a genuine rock band, complete with roadies, groupies, and a very funny costume designer.

Aside from the whole tried-and-been-there visit to Inspirational Teacher Land, what really calls School of Rock to front and center is that it’s a perfect and highly creative tribute to the rock genre, while satirizing it at the same time. In the setting of an elementary classroom, we laugh at the ridiculousness of bands posing while at the same time being reminded of the genuine passion that drives some tunes. And while there have been many homages on film to the rock genre, at least this one isn’t completely full of itself (Almost Famous, I’m glaring daggers of irony in your direction).

Clare’s rating: Jack Black Lite

Clare’s review: School of Rock is a perfect movie for Jack Black to star in. He’s been quietly (okay, not quietly at all) honing the (non-)subtle nuances of his character, Dewey Finn, for years as one half of Tenacious D and as the go-to guy for any movie looking to inject a little ham into its proceedings. It should come as no surprise that his character and this whole film were written specifically for him.

School of Rock is good. You should see it. It’s cute. And for once I say that as a compliment about something and not as an ironic word I would use while also spitting on whatever I’m describing. You can bring your kids to it and they’d probably only be slightly confused. There are a bunch of moments in the film that made me laugh out loud.

And I definitely had an “our boy Jack is all growed-up” feeling about it. He carried his first major motion picture and it did really well at the box office in no small part because he is as charismatic and accessible as he is. He works hard at what he does and I think he deserves all the praise and attention and money he can shovel into a truck and drive away with. I love Jack Black, and you should too. He’s singularly hilarious and, as lots of people have speculated for many years, he’s blowing up big and finally finding a larger audience to appreciate his many and varied talents.

Having said all that, here’s my deal with this movie. Anyone who’s seen Tenacious D, either on TV or live in concert or on DVD (Tenacious D: The Complete Masterworks), has seen everything Black does in School of Rock in some form or another already. It’s just that finding a larger audience also means having to lose some of the dirt and meat Black is so good at and replacing it with doing funny things with his eyebrows and being cuddly.

And while I don’t begrudge him the choice to go in that direction, I prefer my Jack Black in all his full on R-Rated glory. In School of Rock, he’s the Jack Black you’d be happy to bring home to mom. And I much prefer the Jack Black who talks constantly about body functions, drugs, pubic hair and filling crevasses with his mighty juice. But I recognize that my tastes aren’t everyone’s, so I’d say that if you’ve seen Jack Black anywhere else and found him amusing, you’ll definitely enjoy School of Rock.

In addition to all this Jack Black love, I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention how GREAT Joan Cusack is in this movie. She’s hilarious, adorable, quirky and basically just kicks ass all over the place. I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing repressed and uppity as funny as she did.

Sue’s rating: Actually, THREE is the magic number.

Sue’s review: I didn’t watch School of Rock with any real expectations, which is a good thing, since if I had, none of them would have been met. The music wouldn’t have wowed me, the story wouldn’t have gripped me and Jack Black wouldn’t have annoyed me nearly as much as he usually does. In fact, none of these things happened, so isn’t it nice that I didn’t go to all the trouble of setting myself up for failure?

I don’t know. I think Dead Poets Society ruined me for dumbed-down fine-arts mentorish movies. Or maybe Wonder Boys did. Both smart movies, with doses of humor, leavened with serious drama. Peanut butter movies that stick with you for quite a long time. School of Rock was more like jelly. It didn’t take much effort to wash down. (Did you catch the bread reference a few sentences ago? I made a sandwich!)

The only character in the whole story who struck me as believable was Ned Schneebly played interestingly enough by the scriptwriter Mike White. (Sidenote: Is it just me, or does the guy look like Spud from Trainspotting’s love child?) Black was over the top as only Black can be — at least since John Belushi died. The kids were cookie cutter stereotypes, the parents all ultra-conservative familial dictators, Schneebly’s girlfriend was an unredeemable… er… terrier of the female and un-spayed persuasion… and even Joan Cusack (who acted rings around everyone else) was stuck with the “misunderstood authority figure who just wants to be liked” role. Eh.

It was a cute movie. Sort of. I laughed in a few places and tapped my toes to the music periodically. It’s reasonable to assume that I would have enjoyed it more if I’d watched it in the company of a few friends and a two liter bottle of Mountain Dew. My mistake.

The thing was, it veered so much between heavy-handed (lets make a double entendre and WAIT for thirty seconds until we’re SURE everyone gets it) and lightweight (“I’m too dorky to play keyboards.” “No you aren’t.” “Oh, okay.”) that I can’t help but think it could have been… somehow… better. Bah, maybe I’m just getting stodgy.

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