THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The School of Rock stars Jack Black as Dewey Finn, an overly-zealous rock musician who dreams of taking his band to the big time. Dewey is totally floored when he arrives for rehearsal one day, only to find that he’s been kicked out of the band he formed. The other members are tired of his rock-and-roll posturing – the stage dives, the endless guitar solos, the ego. Meanwhile, Dewey’s roommate Ned Schneebly (Mike White) is pressuring him to pay his share of the rent. Actually, Ned’s shrewish girlfriend Patty (Sarah Silverman) is pressuring him to pressure Dewey. She doesn’t like the guy and wants him gone from the apartment.

One day, the phone rings. A posh private school known as Horace Green Elementary is calling to offer Ned a long-term substitute teaching position. Dewey intercepts the call and, upon hearing the salary, pretends to be Ned so he can take the job. He’s not interested in teaching, as his classroom full of prep students soon finds out. They’re eager to learn something; he’s hungry and eager to take a nap. That situation changes when Dewey overhears the students in music class. Several of them have genuine talent. Seeing an opportunity, he begins the all-day/every-day “rock class,” in which he drills the classical training out of the kids and injects them with a love of rock-and-roll. He teaches them how to play electric instruments, maintain a rock star attitude, and write their own music. Each child is assigned a role: some are musicians, some are roadies, and one girl snags a position as band manager. Dewey’s ultimate plan is to beat his former bandmates in a local Battle of the Bands.

None of this is in the curriculum – a fact that must be withheld from principal Rosalie Mullins (Joan Cusack) as well as the parents. They eventually find out, of course, and many of the parents must accept the fact that their kids have an entirely independent set of interests. As for Mullins, she complains to Dewey that her wild side has been subdued by the responsibilities of her job. Although she spends the day acting prim and proper, there is a more carefree side to her personality waiting to bust out.

The School of Rock, as you can perhaps tell, is kind of like a hard rock version of Mr. Holland’s Opus. It is about a teacher opening up the world of music to his pupils. Given that most of the kids have been raised on either bubblegum pop or rap, the introduction to a new form of music is eye-opening. I like the message of the movie, which is that parents shouldn’t limit their children or turn them into clones. The kids find a true love of Dewey’s music, and it fits the way they want to express themselves. One parent in particular is horrified to learn that his son is playing an electric guitar. However, he can’t deny the passion with which his son plays the instrument.

This film is an excellent example of how synergy can work in a movie’s favor. There is a combination of the right script, the right star, and the right director. The screenplay by Mike White is a love letter to rock music, but also an encouragement for children to be free-thinking and exploratory. It argues that kids should embrace their own curiosity rather than just doing what their parents want them to do. This idea is beautifully conveyed by director Richard Linklater, whose passion for music has been evident in his other pictures, most notably Dazed and Confused. He gives The School of Rock a palpable respect for rock-and-roll. And since Linklater helped kick off the independent film movement with his seminal Slacker, he understands the rebellious undertone of the story too.

The beating heart of the movie is Jack Black. I can’t imagine this film being made with anyone else. Black – a rock musician himself – is not only the obvious choice for the role, he’s also the perfect choice. The actor always brings an almost demonic approach to comedy; he’s like a whirling dervish caught on film. That sheer energy is what makes rock-and-roll great; it’s not about perfection or precision, but about surrender. The fact that Black can mix real music talent with honest-to-goodness comic genius makes him the only actor who could do this role justice.

I laughed many times at The School of Rock. Black is hilarious, and he’s supported by a very able cast. There is one additional thing that elevates the quality of this film: you can see the kids actually doing their own singing and playing their own instruments. This isn’t one of those deals where the actors take crash courses in order to learn how to play three guitar chords. No, these kids are the real deal and you can see it. They love the music for real. So does Black. So does Linklater. So do I.

( 1/2 out of four)

The School of Rock is rated PG-13 for some rude humor and drug references. The running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes.

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