When I first heard of this movie quite some time ago, I wasn't sure what to think of it. I'm a pretty big fan of Jack Black, but if you put him and his exuberance in the wrong type of material (See: Shallow Hal) the results don't always turn out too favorable. But then when I found out that this movie was written by Mike White (Dead Man on Campus, Orange County) and was directed by Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused), I started to get more excited for this movie. My excitement turned out to not be in vain because this is one hell of a laugh-fest, with a pretty good story behind it as well, although some of the story we've seen before.
The movie starts out kind of slow with Dewey Finn (Black) and his band playing a show where Black is overly enthusiastic, which for some reason means the band isn't good. Consequently, he gets tossed out of the band so they can take the upcoming battle of the bands more seriously. And after a cliched leaving-the-band speech, Finn goes back to his place. Well, the place he freeloads at, I should say, from his friend Ned (White), who's a substitute teacher and his new overbearing girlfriend Patty (Silverman), who's, well, aggravating. Ned and Patty have had enough of Finn's mooching - well Patty has had enough and she told Ned that he's had enough as well - and they demand he get a job and stop chasing his dream of being a rock star. What is an aspiring rock star to do? The only thing he can do. Pretend he is Ned and take a substitute teaching job at an elite grade school, and in doing so, try to mold these youngsters into an elite rock group and win the battle of the bands from the band that cast him aside. That's what every aspiring rock star would've done, right? Right.
Jack Black is at the top of his game here, delivering his best performance since High Fidelity. He is insanely funny throughout the movie, and has one of the funniest lines I've heard all year when he asks one of the kids if they knew what a hangover was. One of the kids asks if that meant he was drunk and Black says, "No, it means I was drunk yesterday." He has a truckload of energy and his delivery is just great, most of the time. True, at times it does seem like he trained at the Jim Carrey School for the Overactor, because he tries to aim way too high sometimes, and it just ends up flopping. But he does have some range, which was shown somewhat in Shallow Hal if you could see through the horrendous story, and he handles the more mellow scenes wonderfully as well. Is this Best Actor material? Of course not. But you will probably be laughing all the way home after seeing his great performance.I didn't know that the wonderful Joan Cusack was in this movie, but she turns in a great, subdued performance as the headmistress of the grade school. Her character seems to be taken a bit from Angelica Huston's headmistress character in Daddy Day Care, but she's still very good as the snobbish Principal Mullins. Mike White is pretty good as Ned, but I wish he would've written his own character a little differently. He's a pretty big pushover, and granted he plays it well, but it's fairly annoying. But I guess that means that his performance was accurate. Either way, a different angle on his character might have sat better with me, but White was still good, as usual. Sarah Silverman is even more annoying though, and she does nothing that we haven't seen before in this type of character. As for the children of the School of Rock, they're all actually very good, all with surprisingly decent range for child actors. And they were all very diverse (although somewhat unoriginal) characters, with a couple of shy-yet-talented kids, the loudmouth brat who needs discipline, the chubby kid and the computer geek.
My favorite of the kids, though is the most original, but it's also a smaller role among the kids. He's the homosexual kid, who wants to be the band's wardrobe consultant. He's absolutely hilarious, even more so because you wouldn't even dream of seeing a gay character that's a 10-year old kid.
The script is pretty good, with some great dialogue and a nice plot line. The movie does sort of feel like a mix between Detroit Rock City, Big Daddy and Kindergarten Cop, which is an odd mix, I know. But overall the story did work rather nicely. I love White's writing because he never gives his movies a traditional Hollywood ending, but still finds a way to make it a satisfying ending without giving in to clich駳. And his style holds true in this movie as well. White gives us a ton of humor, but also mixes in some fairly serious tones as well. The serious parts aren't incredibly dramatic, but it gives us a nice break from the laughter. The main thing I didn't like about the script was the back-and-forth about whether or not Finn is actually any good as a musician. It's pretty minor, but it's kind of a nuisance.
Director Richard Linklater seems to be an actor's director. He has enormous faith in the script and his talent to pull the movie through, without trying to put a "director's touch" or imposing a certain style on us that many directors try to do so we can realize that they graduated from film school. Linklater is very minimalist in his direction, using basic shots and angles but also giving us some nice sweeping shots and other minor touches just to let us know that there's someone sitting in the director's chair.
School of Rock is a movie about, well, I guess you could say it's about getting a second chance. But it's really about what happens when rock ?n' roll meets 10-year old's in this highly entertaining romp of a movie.